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Tribune Staff

News of the city of Powell's decision to purchase the $6.5 million Powellink bond was met with mixed reactions last week.

Some are critical of the city's choice to invest its enterprise reserves in the bond, while others applaud city leaders for what they see as a fiscally responsible action.

Part of the skepticism comes from the city's change in course. Originally, the bond was to be held by a private investor, and the city was to obtain ownership in about 20 years. During development plans several years ago, Powell citizens also were assured that no public money would go toward the fiber-optic network.

In an agreement expected to be finalized this week, the city will invest $6.5 million from its enterprise reserves toward the Powellink bond — owning the network early, opening it to other service providers sooner and, yes, using public money toward the investment.

The recent development certainly is a change of course, but by the numbers, it will provide more money for the city of Powell. As more subscribers sign up for Powellink, the city's rate of return will increase. Even if Powellink subscriptions stay at around 450 — the number TCT currently has — the city of Powell still will receive more than $11,000 per month on its investment.

The $6.5 million in reserves formerly was invested in the local government investment pool WYO-STAR, where in recent months, it drew an interest rate of only 0.8 percent or less. In May, the investment provided just $4,000 back to the city — about a third of what will be earned through the Powellink investment.

It's understandable that citizens are surprised and even upset by the recent decision, especially given that public funding will go toward what was marketed as a private venture.

Yet, strictly looking at the numbers, we also understand why the city decided to invest its enterprise reserve funds in Powellink rather than WYO-STAR or another investment with dismal rates of return.

As one of the few municipalities with a citywide fiber-optic network, use of the reserves in the bond is a unique investment option for Powell — and one that could help the city persevere financially in difficult economic times.

It has been painful to watch the spreading disaster along the Gulf Coast in recent weeks.

The blowout of the British Petroleum well and the resulting oil spill has had tragic consequences already, and there is no way of knowing when it will end. Fishermen are losing this year's season, and worse, may be facing the end of their industry and with it their way of life. The same is true of those who make their living from tourism. Eleven people lost it all when the drilling platform blew up, leaving their families forever changed.

Wildlife has suffered, too. Habitat for pelicans and other birds may be permanently damaged, and unlike humans, pelicans can't choose another way of life. They are pretty much stuck with their instincts, and have no way of knowing how to deal with the oil that is killing them.

Despite the tragedy, one facet of this situation is, if not funny, at least a little humorous. The oil slick, you see, has invaded not only the beaches and wetlands, but our politics as well. The invasion has turned a lot of the complaints about government on their heads.

Suddenly, the complaints that the federal government regulates too much have turned into complaints that it wasn't regulating enough. Politicians who once didn't want the feds to do anything, are now complaining that they aren't doing enough.

The ridiculous assertions that Barack Obama is a dictator have turned into equally ridiculous claims that he is not acting forcefully enough to deal with the crisis. Those who have been screaming about a so-called power grab are now griping that the president hasn't grabbed enough power. And if they aren't complaining, they have been silent. TEA Party favorite Rand Paul in Kentucky, for example, criticized the president for stating that he would keep pressure on the company to deal properly with the disaster, asserting that the president didn't have the right to do that. Since then, though, he has avoided making public statements about the spill.

Finally, those who holler the government can't do anything right have learned that private industry doesn't always do things right either, and their mistakes can devastate lives as much or more than the government mistakes.

This disaster has, in fact, revealed a truth about our relationship to our government. Americans, in general — yes, even liberals — don't really like government very much, particularly when it inhibits something we like to do. But Americans — yes, even conservatives — also want the government to protect us from evil deeds and foul-ups of businesses and our fellow citizens.

In short, we have conflicting expectations and desires of our governenment. We want a small (and cheap) government, but we want it to be ready with resources (including money) whenever we have a problem, whether it's an economic crisis, a terrorist attack, a flood of illegal immigrants or, in this case, a disaster resulting from corporate carelessness.

Those conflicting expectations have created the mess we are in right now. We have demanded a lot of our government, while at the same time weakening its ability to meet our demands and cutting the funding for taking needed action.

The cry right now is for a smaller, more limited government, one that is less intrusive into our lives. But that demand is contradicted by other cries. We demand more protection from illegal aliens, rising health care costs, Mother Nature's torments and man-caused disasters. We also demand more intrusion into people's lives in order to detect possible terrorists or stop women from seeking abortions.

The political fashion right now is to be angry, and it's exemplified by the ranting of talking heads of both extremes. The sentiment this year is to “throw the rascals out” and elect “outsiders” to office.

Unfortunately, recent history shows that such actions don't work. Electing political outsiders such as Arnold Schwartzenegger and Jesse Ventura didn't solve the problems faced by California and Minnesota, and filling Congress or the state legislature with novices next November won't produce positive results either. And decisions made in anger are rarely rational, and often make matters worse.

That's because the basic problem remains. Americans will still want the government to take action on things that are bothering them — everything from stopping oil spills to banning birth control methods they don't like. And they will want those things to happen without paying the taxes necessary to carry out those mandates.

No matter who is elected, the winners will have to find a way to reconcile those conflicting demands.

Meanwhile, we have a disaster in the Gulf of Mexico because a corporation cut corners in the name of profit, and government regulation failed to prevent it. Oil is still flowing into the Gulf. Fishermen are losing their livelihoods and pelicans are still dying.

And politically, we are all slipping and sliding in a giant oil slick.

(Jan. 26, 1983 - June 8, 2010)

Brianna Chris Daly died unexpectedly on June 8, 2010, at her home in Evanston.

(Nov. 11, 1934 - June 10, 2010)

Dorothy A. Blount Friez, 75, died Thursday morning, June 10, 2010, at the Powell Valley Care Center of natural causes.

(May 19, 1961 - May 23, 2010)

Colen James Pierson, born in Powell on May 19, 1961, died May 23, 2010, while fishing at West Magic Reservoir near Shoshone, Idaho.

(Dec. 16, 1950 - March 14, 2010)

A memorial service for Diane Knopp will be at 10 a.m. Thursday, June 17 at Immanuel Lutheran Church. Interment will follow at Crown Hill Cemetery immediately after the service.

(July 23, 1934 - May 29, 2010)

Thomas W. “Tom” Sanford died Saturday, May 29, 2010, in the North Big Horn Hospital with family by his side.

Under new agreement, city will own network 18 years early

Eighteen years ahead of the original schedule, the city of Powell will own the fiber-optic network, Powellink.

The decision came Monday after the Powell City Council unanimously voted to authorize an agreement to purchase the $6.5 million bond held by private investors.

{gallery}06_10_10/wagonlady{/gallery}

Early on, a wagon overturned while reenacting George Custer's cataclysmic trip to Little Bighorn. Arleen Kessel, of Powell, riding on the wagon train from Mandan, N.D., to Hardin, Mont., was not a happy camper. Courtesy photo/Tom Stromme, Bismarck Tribune

Powell woman rides wagon from North Dakota to Custer's Last Stand

Wagons Ho!

A Powell woman is among five people, four wagons and 14 mules that are trekking from North Dakota to Montana, tracing the doomed route of U.S. Army Lt. Col. George Custer.

Opting not to follow the advice of its consultant, the Park County Commission on Tuesday voted to increase funding to its health insurance plan by 10 percent.

The county's private insurance consultant, Eric Deeg of Western States Insurance Agency, had recommended boosting funding to the self-insured plan by at least 20 percent.

Page 496 of 514

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