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Good of many outweighs good of few

Like many concerned citizens in our community I’ve watched for weeks as the city council and Mayor George Evans have struggled with making a decision about whether to close two streets to help a local industry.

The arguments on both sides are valid; one side, the handful of residents who live on Griffin Avenue, say they will be inconvenienced by having further to travel to get out of their neighborhood each day, and possibly be put in jeopardy by the additional time it would take for responders to reach them if there was ever an emergency at their homes.

The other side, Bush Hog and the nearly 300 employees who work there, their families and the hundreds of businesses in the community who depend on the payroll dollars the company generates here, say closing the two short streets will further cement the company in our community. This, Bush Hog has said, will possibly lead to an expansion of jobs and secure their place in the industrial community by making the manufacturing facility more efficient and safer for both employees and the public.

So which side is right? Both are, but to varying degrees. People have a right to live in peace and feel safe in their homes and the handful of families who live on Griffin Avenue will no doubt be inconvenienced by it taking longer to get in and out of their neighborhood [a maximum of two minutes based on times studies] and the unknown, possibly never occurring, emergency that might endanger their property and personal well being.

The company, its employees, their families and the business community and their families know that if the streets are not closed, Bush Hog could close. So what does that mean? Higher unemployment for one. Dallas County current holds the significance of having the fourth highest unemployment in the state [20.3 percent]. It could also mean the loss of Bush Hog’s estimated $11 million in annual payroll. Statistics show a dollar in our community circulates approximately five times, meaning that $11 million quickly turns into $55 million that is spent locally.

Other jobs would be lost as companies downsized their payrolls to compensate for decreased revenue at their businesses. Population would decrease as people out of work because the plant closed would move to other communities, taking their children with them. This means fewer students in our school systems, which means fewer state and federal dollars our schools receive to help educate our children.

According to the latest U.S. Census figures there is an average of 2.57 persons per household in Dallas County. If 300 people are immediately put out of work and, for the sake of analysis, half of them move from the county to find other jobs, our population could shrink another 385 people leading to a lower census, thus fewer federal dollars tied to population. And the population losses could be dramatically more if you consider other job losses that may result from the potential closure of Bush Hog.

Then there is the issue of the loss of sales tax dollars [and other tax dollars] the city and county would have to shoulder. Taking $55 million in locally circulated dollars out of our community means Selma and Dallas County would lose $4.4 million in sales tax revenue that is badly needed to provide city and county jobs and infrastructure improvements. It would also lead to a decrease in city and county services, higher fees and further the deterioration of our city.

Mayor Evans has posed an alternative; that the city and county, with the financial assistance of Bush Hog and the Selma-Dallas County Economic Development Authority put $150,000 toward constructing another road that leads to the neighborhood. The catch is Norfolk Southern Railroad will have to construct a railroad crossing, adding another estimated $300,000 to the cost of constructing the road.

Where is that additional money coming from? Nobody knows. Not the mayor, the council or the company. And the kicker to that plan is the people who live in the neighborhood don’t really want it, at least that’s what they expressed in the last council meeting.

So if both sides are “right” with their argument on the road closures, which is more right?

It’s clear to me when one weighs all the options – close the roads, keep the company, the jobs, the millions of dollars they generate in our community and send a message that our community is business friendly. While it may not be “fair” to everyone, the good of the many outweighs the good of the few.

Dennis Palmer is publisher of The Selma Times-Journal. He can be reached at 334-410-1712 or by email: dennis.palmer@selmatimesjournal.com.