Five ideas: What are your thoughts on these items in the news this week?

Saturday, May 3, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:46 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fire board debates bomb squad recertification

Boone County Fire Protection District Chief Steve Paulsell and Assistant Fire Chief Doug Westhoff were suspended in early April in connection with the fire district’s falsification of its application for FBI bomb squad recertification.

Fire board Chairman John Gordon changed his vote to rescind the suspension and make it a reprimand instead. Gordon’s change of heart reportedly came when he learned that the squad could regain their certification.

The loss of the certification leaves the fire district and the county without a squad certified by the FBI. The city of Columbia’s squad is not FBI-certified and can’t cover the fire district’s area.

Now the Missouri State Highway Patrol in Jefferson City must respond to calls.

The board approved a motion to conduct research about ways to work toward being recertified, if anyone currently employed qualifies for the certification, the costs of hiring someone already trained to FBI standards and what other things the new job might entail.

Although the fire district’s bomb squad answers about 10 calls in a busy year, leaving the squad’s certification in a state of suspension would leave the fire district with hundreds of thousands of dollars of useless bomb-detecting equipment.

How important is it to you that Boone County has an FBI-certified bomb squad?

Businesses encourage spending rebates

Tax rebate checks began hitting bank accounts across the nation April 28, beginning the national economic stimulus program a little bit ahead of time.

On May 2, 5 million checks went out — the largest batch so far, and stores want a piece of them.

Stores like Kroger and Home Depot are offering discounts or gift cards with bonus money for customers who cash their rebate checks at the stores.

Companies like Staples and Expedia have special rebate deals for office equipment, hotels, flights and other perks.

Sears and Kroger (Gerbes is a Kroger outlet) want to encourage customers to spend the entire rebate at their stores. Both are adding 10 percent to a store gift card purchased with the rebate check.

At Kroger, customers can purchase cards in only $300, $600 or $1,200 denominations with the additional amount refunded.

The rebate is a minimum of $300, and the government hopes it will prompt consumers to spend money. Married couples who file jointly can get as much as $1,200. Parents can also receive $300 for each dependent child.

What are you going to do with your tax rebate?

Gas prices go through the roof

Gas prices in Columbia rose to $3.49 per gallon this week.

Soaring gas prices are now at the forefront of national concern and a hot-button issue for presidential candidates.

Experts suggest the reason gas prices are so high now is not because of shortages — as happened in the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s — current lack of refinery capacity or especially greedy oil companies. Instead, they say simply that demand is greater than supply.

Presidential candidate and presumptive Republican nominee John McCain touted a summer gas-tax holiday during recent speeches, and candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., has backed the idea.

Right now the federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon, and the two candidates contend that without a holiday, Americans will suffer during the vacation-heavy summer season.

Sen. Barack Obama, another Democrat running for president, has suggested taxing big oil companies. President Bush and other high-ranking Republicans have called for the creation of more refineries in the United States.

Both parties want to stop paying $117 per barrel.

What do you think would help Americans who are facing increasing prices for fuel?

College tuition rises for MU students

College tuition at MU costs about $291 per credit hour, amounting to about $4,365 in a typical semester for in-state students.

UM System President Gary Forsee spoke about the rising costs of tuition on April 28 when he gave the 2008 Monroe-Paine distinguished lecture in public affairs.

He said he understands that the rising costs make higher education out of the question for some families, but he said that public higher education still holds value to its stakeholders.

He cited reports from the U.S. Census Bureau that say those with a bachelor’s degree make about $800,000 more over the course of a lifetime than those who don’t. He said that MU would be more affordable if it had more state funding and noted that MU is nationally one of the lowest-ranking universities in this category.

MU faculty salaries even lag behind those of other Big 12 schools. Forsee said MU generates $1.1 billion in economic activity, provides more than 13,000 jobs and serves some 80,000 patients through University Hospital and its affiliated clinics.

Bob Banning, a former MU public administration major who was here for his 50th college reunion, said he was shocked to hear about MU funding.

“I was appalled that MU was 47th on the funding list,” Banning said. “But I believe (Forsee’s) got a plan to move forward.”

Does the economic output of MU make up for the fact that higher education is becoming more out of reach for many families?

YouZeum opens health science center

The long-awaited YouZeum opened May 1, giving visitors the opportunity to learn about healthy food choices in an interactive diner or about how their bones and muscles work from a “bone chest.”

The interactive heath science center had its ribbon-cutting May 2 and also included activities such as riding a bike down a virtual trail and making quick decisions in an emergency room.

“The YouZeum will engage the community not only through the exhibits, but also through community programs,” said Ann Cohen, member of the board of directors. “The YouZeum encourages self-discovery. Instead of being told something, you figure it out for yourself.”

Cohen said YouZeum expects to have an estimated 60,000 visitors annually. Ali Hussam, director of research and educational support at MU’s School of Medicine, said he hopes visitors will see YouZeum as a valuable resource to Columbia and as something that could be replicated at other museums in Missouri and throughout the U.S.

“I feel like this is just phase one,” Cohen said. “All of the programming is still to come. I feel like this is a good start, but there is much more to come.”

What do you hope YouZeum brings to Columbia?

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