The Town of Smithfield is much different today from what it was just four years ago. Most noticeably, employees no longer reward themselves with double-digit pay raises in defiance of town council directives. Gone too, were told, are the days when employees cashed out vacation and hardship pay in violation of town limits on such compensation.
The Town Council is much different too, with a new mayor and councilmen in no way tainted by the pay and benefits scandal. This group, with a number of new faces elected just last month, is in position to put Smithfields recent past behind it and set a new course for the town.
But will it do so? And if so, what might that course be?
As mayor, John Lampe is best positioned to set the councils agenda going forward. But Mr. Lampe has been guarded, at least publicly, in where he might lead the council. The other candidates on the November ballot were more forthcoming, saying, for example, that they would make economic development a priority. But they were short on details, leaving Smithfield residents and business owners to wonder how the council might proceed.
Our own wish is that the council move quickly to reduce Smithfields debt burden, even if that means selling assets like the water plant. Because it has essentially reached its limit on borrowing, the town would be hard pressed to borrow the money needed for projects like refurbishing its aging water and sewer lines. (People are right to tout Smithfields many amenities, including the recreation and aquatics, but infrastructure matters most to employers.)
We wish too that the council would purge its ordinances of rules that make it unnecessarily costly to do business in Smithfield. For an example of these rules, visit the freestanding ice vending machine on U.S. 301 just south of the Neuse River. Does a vending machine really need all of that landscaping?
Finally, we hope the council will cut spending to drive down a high cost of living that makes Smithfield an undesirable destination for young families looking to buy a home.
The pay scandal still taints the town, and we wish the district attorney would help put the matter to rest by completing and announcing the results of her investigation. In the meantime, the council must govern. Heres hoping its actions will help the town start growing again.