Selma has much going for it, but to reach its full potential, the town needs to lower electricity rates, improve its schools and continue fostering economic development.
Those were the overarching themes in Mayor Cheryl Oliver’s “State of the Town” address, which she delivered Thursday at the new Harrison Center for Active Aging.
“Sometimes, we stay so busy doing things we do not stop to recap what has been done, what is being done and, perhaps most importantly, where our actions are taking us,” Oliver said.
On the economic-development front, the mayor noted that Selma has recently welcomed several new businesses, including Walker Auto Parts, Blown Away hair salon and A1 Tire and Auto repair. Other businesses plan to expand their operations: Bailey Feed Mill is adding soybeans to its lineup, and Atlantic Coast Protein Corp., which turns pork blood plasma into a pet-food binder, hopes to add chicken and turkey plasma.
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But if Selma wants to continue to grow, the town needs to focus on electricity rates, schools and economic-development efforts, Oliver said.
Lower electricity rates are likely if Selma and North Carolina’s other public power towns complete a deal to sell their shares in power plants to Duke Energy Progress. Oliver said high electricity rates have kept families and businesses from coming to Selma.
Similarly, the high poverty rate at Smithfield-Selma High School discourages families and employers, Oliver said. “When parents or potential employers see that number, they often feel as if such a school will not provide the level of education they desire for their children or their employees' children,” she said.
To improve SSS and other schools, Oliver said, the Johnston County Board of Education needs to look to other counties that have overcome similar circumstances. She pointed to neighboring Wake and Wayne counties as examples.
Oliver is a member of a citizens’ group that is pushing Johnston school leaders to improve academic performance at Smithfield-Selma High. “We will continue these meetings in an effort to drive ongoing improvements in our schools,” she said.
To foster economic development, Selma needs to provide a welcoming environment for new businesses while taking care of the ones it has already, Oliver said. The town stands to ready to welcome business, the mayor said, pointing to Selma Crossings, a state-certified industrial site with access to both north-south and east-west rail. Separately, she noted that plans are moving forward on Eastfield, a development that will mix retail space, housing and medical officers.
Oliver said Selma has made progress on many fronts – prioritizing water and sewer projects, updating technology at town hall and the police department and strengthening partnerships with county, state and federal officials.
Focus groups held Oct. 2, 6 and 7 sought citizen and business input on moving Selma forward.
“I and our council members, want to know if you concur with the course being charted and how your tax dollars are being spent,” Oliver said in advance of the meetings. “We need to know what you want to see in Selma’s future.”