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Five stories to watch in Siouxland in 2018

Some familiar issues and challenges await Siouxland in the new year. Here's a look at five top stories we'll be watching and talking about in the 12 months ahead.

Will the courts find MRHD breached its contract with Penn National Gaming?

In September 2012, the Belle of Sioux City, a subsidiary of Wyomissing, Pa.-based Penn, the nation's largest gaming company, sued Missouri River Historical Development, the state-licensed nonprofit group that had held Woodbury County's gambling license since 1989, claiming that MRHD schemed to replace the Argosy with another operator even before their 20-year contract expired in July 2012.

MRHD denied the allegations and countersued, claiming that Penn interfered with MRHD's prospective relationships by sending letters threatening legal action against potential operators with whom MRHD might pursue an agreement. After the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission solicited bids for a land-based casino in Sioux City, MRHD partnered with the owner of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, which was awarded the license and opened Aug. 1, 2014. An IRGC order forced the Argosy to close two days earlier.

A key test of whether the case will go to trial will come in early January, when a Polk County District Court judge will hear oral arguments in MRHD's motion for summary judgement. 

Will Seaboard Triumph Foods encounter trouble staffing a second shift?

STF, a joint venture between Seaboard Foods and Triumph Foods, opened its $300 million pork plant in early September with a single shift and has since ramped up to 1,100 employees. With construction on an expansion nearing completion, the company has started recruiting for an additional 900 hourly workers for the second shift anticipated to start in early summer.

With the metro Sioux City unemployment rate remaining below 3 percent, the company likely will have to look beyond the tri-state region to attract enough candidates. Helping to settle refugees from other countries remains an option for supplementing the labor pool.

Will Siouxland incumbent office holders win re-election?

With dissatisfaction with President Trump at a pitched fever, the political winds seem to be blowing against Republican candidates who will be on the ballot in the midterm elections. Democrats hope that will create an opening to finally unseat controversial Iowa 4th District Rep. Steve King, who also faces a challenger from within his own party.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who replaced longtime Gov. Terry Branstad after he resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China last year, will run for her own first term. Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts is expected to seek his second term, while South Dakota will have a new governor in 2019, with two-term Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard term-limited.

Locally, Republican Woodbury County Board of Supervisors members Matthew Ung and Jeremy Taylor, the last two chairmen of the five-county board, will face re-election for the first time in November.  

Will ambulance service suffer?

When Siouxland Paramedics ceases emergency response Jan. 1, Sioux City and North Sioux City will take over providing ambulance service to their residents. At the same time, the outlying areas that relied on SPI for paramedic assists in critical situations will no longer have that service.

Sioux City could be on the hook for $600,000 to $1 million in additional costs over the next six months as it takes over in-town ambulance services. It will have to figure out as it goes what the exact subsidy will be and how it’s going to pay for the ongoing service in future budget years. Meanwhile, the rural areas across the region will also need to figure out what they can do to address the gaps in paramedic care SPI has left.

Will Spectra deliver on its promises?

Philadelphia-based Spectra takes over management of the Tyson Events Center and Orpheum Theatre Jan. 1. The private firm has pledged to increase the number of shows at the venues, to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars for improvements and reduce the city’s subsidy by $270,000 in the first year.

The city is banking on a smooth transition from public to private management and the promised reduction in the subsidy it pays for Tyson operations. How well Spectra delivers will be among the things closely monitored by the city this year.

Family gets New Year’s gift
Family welcomes Aderix Alexander, Sioux City's first baby of 2018

SIOUX CITY | Decked in blue-striped footie pajamas and a knit cap, Aderix Joseph Michael Alexander snuggled soundly in his father's arms as his parents recounted how he had arrived five days ahead of schedule to become Sioux City's first baby born in 2018. 

But his mother, Erin Parsley, said it wasn't a moment too soon. 

"We're happy he's finally here," she said. 

Parsley said she had been watching the seconds tick down to the new year when she realized that her son, who was expected to arrive Jan. 6, was on his way.

"As soon as the ball dropped is basically when I had to come in," she said. "I was surprised." 

She then hopped in a vehicle with her stepsister to head to Mercy Medical Center -- Sioux City. 

"He was sleeping," she laughed, nodding to the baby's father, Derick Alexander. 

Approximately seven hours later, at 7:06 a.m., the 7.8-pound Aderix was born. According to local hospitals, the baby was Sioux City's first of the year. He was delivered by Dr. Kathleen LaFavor. 

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

From left, Aderix Alexander, Sioux City's first baby born in 2018, sleeps in the arms of his father, Derick Alexander, as his mother, Erin Parsley, and 4-year-old sister, Adaleyah Alexander, look on. 

Aderix joins the rest of the Sioux City family's members with a birthday falling around the turn of the year. His father was born on Christmas Eve, his mother on Jan. 30, and his 4-year-old sister, Adaleyah, was born Jan. 7. 

"It's definitely a good way to start the year," Alexander said, cradling his son in his arms. "I just turned 30 on Christmas Eve, so to start my 30s with a New Year's baby kind of just puts a stamp on it."

Smiling, he added, "It just throws kind of another celebration into our hectic end of the year."

Nearby, Adaleyah, who turns 5 in under a week, leaned over to kiss her new little brother's face.

The couple said they chose the name Aderix as a nod to Derick's first name. Derick said they enjoy using family names and had previously incorporated his father's name, Dale, into their daughter Adaleyah's name. 

"We try to kind of keep some significance with the names, going in that direction," he said. 

The family's room sported a few gifts from the hospital, including a diaper display and gift basket given in honor of having the first baby of the year. 

The couple agreed this had been their most memorable New Year's yet.

"Most definitely," said Alexander.  

"I will never forget it," said Parsley. 

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Newborn Aderix Alexander naps at Mercy Medical Center -- Sioux City Monday afternoon. Alexander was the first baby born in Sioux City in 2018. 

Perils abroad, full plate at home, as Trump opens 2nd year

WASHINGTON — The glamour of his holiday break behind him, President Donald Trump returned to the White House on Monday night to face a hefty legislative to-do list, critical midterm elections and perilous threats abroad.

Trump is starting his second year in office after a lengthy sojourn at his private Palm Beach club, capped by a New Year's Eve bash. Before his departure, he fired angry tweets at Iran and Pakistan, slamming Islamabad for "lies & deceit" and saying the country had played U.S. leaders for "fools," a reference to frustrations that Pakistan isn't doing enough to control militants.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif tweeted that his government was preparing a response that "will let the world know the truth."

Meantime North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not a future threat. To that, Trump only said: "We'll see."

The president is hoping for more legislative achievements after his pre-Christmas success on taxes. He plans to host Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin at Camp David this weekend to map out the 2018 legislative agenda.

Republicans are eager to make progress before attention shifts to the midterm elections. The GOP wants to hold House and Senate majorities in 2018, but must contend with Trump's historic unpopularity and some recent Democratic wins.

The president concluded 2017 with his first major legislative achievement — a law to cut taxes, beginning this year, for corporations and individuals at an estimated cost of $1.5 trillion added to the national debt over 10 years. The tax overhaul also will end the requirement, in 2019, that all Americans buy health insurance or pay a fine. That's a key component of the Obama-era health law that that Republicans have been unable to repeal; other features of the law remain intact.

The White House has said Trump will come forward with his long-awaited infrastructure plan in January. Trump also has said he wants to overhaul welfare and recently predicted Democrats and Republicans will "eventually come together" to develop a new health care plan.

Ryan has talked about overhauling Medicaid and Medicare and other safety-net programs, but McConnell has signaled an unwillingness to go that route unless there's Democratic support for any changes. Republicans will have just a 51-49 Senate majority — well shy of the 60 votes needed to pass most bills — giving leverage to Democrats.

Congress also has to deal with a backlog from 2017. It must agree on a spending bill by Jan. 19 to avert a partial government shutdown.

In addition, lawmakers have unfinished business on additional aid for hurricane victims, lifting the debt ceiling, extending a children's health insurance program and extending protections for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Trump has said he wants money for a border wall in exchange for protecting those immigrants.

Trump spent his last day in Florida as he spent most other days — visiting his golf course and tweeting.

On Pakistan, he said: "The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!"

It was not immediately clear why the president decided to comment on Pakistan. The U.S. has long accused Islamabad of allowing militants to operate relatively freely in Pakistan's border regions to carry out operations in neighboring Afghanistan. In August, the United States said it would hold up $255 million in military assistance for Pakistan until it cracks down on extremists threatening Afghanistan.

On Iran, Trump kept up his drumbeat in support of widespread anti-government protests there. He tweeted Monday that Iran is "failing at every level" and it is "TIME FOR CHANGE."

City's new EMS director praises smooth ambulance service transition

SIOUX CITY | Leading up to New Year's Day, Jim Haden's goal was that no one would notice when Sioux City switched ambulance service providers. 

As of 4:30 p.m. Monday, the city's Emergency Medical Services Division director said the transition had met his expectations.

"I think it went very smoothly," Haden said. "We wanted it to be as seamless as possible so citizens of Sioux City wouldn't notice the difference."



Sioux City Fire Rescue's brand-new EMS Division took over in-town ambulance service from Siouxland Paramedics at 8 a.m. Monday. Due to financial reasons, the longtime nonprofit ambulance service is no longer providing emergency ambulance service in Sioux City or the Dakota Valley Fire District or paramedic assistance to the tri-state area as it had for several years.

Monday's switch-over came just under four months after the city decided to staff its own EMS division to fill the void. What followed was weeks of rapid preparation in which the city put in place the necessary personnel, agreements, licenses and other requirements needed to begin such a service. 

Under an agreement reached late last year with Siouxland Paramedics, Sioux City has retained eight ambulances and accompanying equipment. The city is operating the services out of fire stations 1, 3 and 4 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and at stations 3 and 4 from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.

The division has a few staff yet to hire but will eventually wield 27 employees.

Haden said the vast majority of the division's employees are either former Siouxland Paramedics staffers or EMS veterans from other agencies, which has helped ease the transition. 

"We’ve got people who know the system and are very familiar with the streets and are familiar with the way the equipment operates," he said. "They’ve been working with the crews who are newer to the system to get them up to speed."

In the Dakota Valley district, North Sioux City Fire Department has begun supplying ambulance service to its residents and will also, when necessary, call on paramedic services from Sioux City Fire Rescue under an agreement approved by the district and set to go before the Sioux City Council early next year

For Sioux City residents wondering what this switch will mean for them, Haden said he believes they can expect the same care they've always received. 

"They should expect much the same as the quality service that’s been provided for the past 30 to 40 years," he said. "SPI has done a pretty remarkable job at keeping the quality at a high level and our expectation is to continue those traditions."

Siouxland Paramedics has not completely dissolved, as a downsized version of the nonprofit will continue providing non-emergency transfers, such as those between hospitals and nursing homes. Such a service offers better reimbursements.

The South Sioux City Council has also approved an agreement that will allow the South Sioux City Fire Department to, when available, provide paramedic assistance to other northeast Nebraska agencies.