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Do not race to judgement on drag strip purchase

May 17, 2009
Morning Journal News

When Salem city officials first presented the proposal to buy the Quaker City Raceway, many troubling questions came to mind.

Does the city really need to get into the racing business? If the current owner has had the facility for sale at the price of $1 million for several years and it hasn't sold, is it really worth that much? If the current owner hasn't made a profit with the track, what makes the city think it can? Especially when the city plans to keep the current owner, Dan Swindell, on as operator.

And, should the city be getting into the racing/entertainment business? Especially during the current difficult economic times.

What liabilities would the city have in owning a potentially dangerous business?

Mayor Jerry Wolford, however, in a recent Letter to the Editor, answered many of the questions and misgivings that we had about the project.

First off, the city is not buying the property to get into the racing business. It took out an option to purchase the 170 acres to be used as an industrial park. The city needs to increase its industrial base and it currently has no lots to fill in its existing industrial park. And, the city won't operate the drag strip, it will lease it to Swindell, who would become the first tenant in the new industrial park. Leasing the land to Swindell will prevent the city from having any liability associated with the business.

After learning this, the purchase seems like a worthwhile project which could boost the local economy with jobs and additional tax revenue. Also, the Quaker City Raceway, which has been a part of Salem's entertainment venue since 1957, will continue to operate, at least for awhile longer.

Now, however, the project faces a battle as Green Township trustees are vowing to fight any attempt by the city of Salem to annex the portion of the property located in the township. Green Township officials rightfully fear that Salem will annex the property as a tax-free zone, costing both the township and the local school district - South Range - necessary tax dollars.

We hope Salem officials will make every effort to work out an annexation plan in which tax revenues will be shared with the township and school district. A similar agreement was reached for property annexed into the city for the construction of Home Depot several years ago.

One statement, however, by Green Township Trustee David Slagle, has us worried. Slagle said, "the residents are up in arms. They don't want to lose their identity."

We hope that the silly provincialism that has plagued so many projects attempted in the past won't be a factor in this annexation fight. In this economy, it would be silly to let the drag strip sit idle, and lose the potential to locate more businesses in the new industrial park that could create new jobs and generate thousands of dollars in tax revenue for all involved. Difficult financial times require township and city officials both to put petty grievances aside and work together for the benefit of all.



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