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  • Last modified 25 days ago (Nov. 3, 2021)

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Two cents on the dollar

It is, perhaps, a sign of the times that what used to be called dime stores now are dollar stores. It’s also a sign of the times that they seem to be popping up faster than price hikes on everyday goods.

Like it or not, Marion now appears to be getting a second dollar store. Some think it will make the town a shopping destination. Others think it will make it a food desert, driving fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats out of the market when local sellers of them can’t compete on prices of other goods that subsidize making those items available.

Whatever the outcome, the deal this time around seems a lot sweeter for the dollar store than a deal that fell through last summer.

Rather than pay Marion to buy a lot in its industrial park, the dollar store now will get a lot for free.

Rather than spend money dealing with complicated drainage issues that caused its former choice for location to be set aside as an undeveloped reserve, the dollar store will be the beneficiary of an expensive new street the city will construct at taxpayer expense.

Yes, the city will need to build that street someday, dollar store or not. But that day could have been delayed until after it completes major water and electric upgrades that threaten to increase utility and tax rates in addition to burdening the town with even more debt.

The new dollar store also will get a guarantee from the city not to let a rival move any closer to the dollar store’s site and not to use most of the remaining lots in the industrial park for the type of heavy-duty industrial use they were set up to accommodate.

Perhaps, as one council member indicated Monday night, this is the best Marion can do, and the town should be thankful the dollar store remained interested after a half-baked idea for a different location fell through last summer.

It’s a certainty that the store will increase the city’s property tax base. Whether it also will increase retail sales and thus sales tax revenue remains to be seen. Simply moving purchases from one store to another won’t generate a cent more in sales tax.

The store promises to create new jobs, but the jobs it promises to create are the precise type for which no one seems to be able to find anyone to hire these days.

We hope such concerns are irrational paranoia, and the store will prove a welcome addition that requires no corresponding subtraction from the community’s economy.

But we still worry that the city essentially has given up on finding true industrial tenants for its industrial park, costly improvements to which it has spent the past 20 years paying off.

For most of those two decades, Marion seems to have been listening to the voices Ray Kinsella hears in “Field of Dreams.”

It has found, however, that if you build it, they will NOT come unless what you build is more than utility and lot lines. You also need to build a skilled work force and useful neighboring services. Imagine, for example, what businesses might have located here to take advantage of a nearby clean and safe landfill or a cadre of young workers as trained in new technologies as they are in sports, music, and drama.

Rather than listening to whispers emanating from cinematic cornfields, Marion might have looked 10 miles to the west and seen how most industry there was home-grown, not imported. Investing in education and infrastructure related to more than just entertainment and serving those less fortunate is a secret that seems to have eluded Marion.

How this entire dollar store deal ended up being placed before the city council essentially as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition with three days of warning is equally troubling.

Would it not have been better to have started open discussions last summer and gradually crafted a plan that includes all ideas and viewpoints rather than give council members only one option, yea or nay?

The matter now rests squarely with the city’s planning and zoning commission, which must decide — probably once and for all — whether the city’s master plan, calling for an industrial park, was a failure and Marion must resign itself to having storage sheds and dollar stores where high-paying industry might have located instead.

Not all decisions have been made. There’s still time for all go us to add our two cents’ worth to the dollar store debate. It may take 50 of us of, but do the math: If we do, it’ll equal a dollar.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Nov. 3, 2021

 

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