The Smithfield-Selma Chamber of Commerce has long been been a progressive, engaged voice in community affairs. It has, for example, encouraged the governments of Smithfield and Selma to explore sharing some services to save taxpayers money. (It’s not the chamber’s fault that the elected leaders of Smithfield and Selma have largely ignored this sound advice. We’re constantly amazed that elected leaders listen more to bureaucrats in town hall than they do to constituents. But that’s an inexplicable shortcoming best solved on Election Day.)
Now, the Smithfield-Selma Chamber is stepping up its engagement game, this past week issuing what it called a “statement on quality education.”
You can read a story about that statement elsewhere in today’s edition, but suffice it to say, the statement is stunning in the breadth of the chamber’s unease. Reading between thinly veiled lines, the chamber is concerned not only about the quality of Smithfield and Selma schools but also about the quality of the communities’ housing stock and public services and the cost of its property taxes and utility fees.
The statement is careful not to point fingers. It never mentions the Johnston County Board of Education nor the town councils in Smithfield and Selma. Indeed, the statement is most demanding of chamber members, calling on them to “fully engage in promoting and enhancing our area’s economic, educational and social well-being.” But make no mistake, the chamber is unhappy with the status quo in Smithfield and Selma.
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Is the chamber’s statement self-serving? Absolutely. By definition, the chamber represents business interests in Smithfield and Selma, so it wants to improve the business environment in the two communities. That means better schools to produce better qualified employees, and it means the lowest possible taxes and fees to reduce the cost of doing business. Even more self-serving, the chamber relies on member dues to underwrite the cost if its operations, including the salaries of chamber of employees. So the better the business environment, the more potential members and dues.
But just because the chamber is being self-serving doesn’t mean it’s wrong. To the contrary, a healthy business community creates jobs that pay wages that allow workers to buy homes, cars, goods and services. Those dollars in turn yield taxes that pay for government services.
Schools and town governments rely on those tax dollars to fund their operations, so here’s hoping the chamber’s words don’t fall on deaf ears.