Monday, June 25, 2007

Chamber of Horrors

When did the Chamber of Commerce quit being concerned about our community and the future of the diverse array of people who live here? They used to care about the quality of life. They used to care about small independent businesses. They used to care that people had good jobs. They used to care about neighborhood schools. They used to care about parks where families could enjoy time together. They used to be willing to make a civic contribution and pay their fair share for making ours a more livable city.

Not anymore. It seems all they care about now is helping a few rich people become richer while everyone else carries a higher tax burden to subsidize the corporate class of welfare bums. Looking at the list of fine people who pay dues to the Chamber, I can’t believe they support what’s happening, but here are three examples, just within the last month.

First, the future of Fayetteville High School. At a public hearing almost every parent and concerned individuals among the 50 attending favored keeping the high school near the present location for safety, environmental, and educational reasons. Who were the advocates for constructing an entirely new high school at the edge of town, leading to sprawl, higher infrastructure costs, and higher profits for developers? Steve Rust, president of the Fayetteville Economic Development Council and front man for the campaign against road impact fees for developers, and Bill Ramsey of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber of Commerce CEO Bill Ramsey said the Chamber heavily favors and recently passed a resolution endorsing the idea that the board build one new school at a new site. However, when asked about an essential factor in the decision, Ramsey said the maximum size of the school hasn’t really come up. “I don’t know what the magic number is,” he said. That would be something those concerned about the best learning environment for our children might consider. It might also be wise to ask if the Chamber members are ready to pay the taxes to build a new school opposed by the majority of patrons.

Second, water rates charged in Fayetteville. Residential customers already pay 75% higher rates than the large industrial customers using millions of gallons. Aldermen Kyle Cook and Lioneld Jordan suggested that the rates should be more equal and that, if large users paid their fair share, residential rates could even be reduced. Chamber CEO Bill Ramsey squawked he was sure that the council will give large industry a special low rate like they did in 2003 because a significant increase in water rates could hurt industrial users such as Tyson Foods. “We view those large increases as a killer,” Ramsey said. The Chamber isn’t concerned about the impact on the elderly and low income. Deference needs to be given to big industry, Ramsey said, “because if we lose those, who’s going to pay the bills?” The largest water customer is the UA; does anyone think they’re going to pack up and leave if water rates increase? If big corporate customers will leave town when asked to pay their fair, then they should beware the door knob.

Finally, special treatment for big developers with lots of money. When Mayor Coody floated the idea of letting big developers pay an additional fee to move their projects faster through the approval process, Alderman Kyle Cook said, “That’s like buying influence to me.” Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce CEO Bill Ramsey said he believes the development community would be willing to pay more and that raising the fees might even help the economy. “We just have a reputation, and it isn’t all just perception, of being a little more difficult of a community for developers,” Ramsey said. “If we shorten the process and change that perception, we’ll get developers looking a little more friendly at Fayetteville.”

That’s the Chamber today—they want construction of a new school regardless of the data about optimum size for quality education, they want special low water rates for big industry subsidized by homeowners, and they want special treatment for quick approval of projects for big developers with money to pay for it. Take their word for it.

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