Editorial: Salisbury faces facts

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Salisbury committee is calling for change because members have come to understand — if they didn’t already — just how far the city’s economy has deteriorated since 2000.

Everyone with a stake in the city needs to face up to the troubling facts below and join the push for new strategies. People who insist we talk only about positives hold the city back from making needed improvements.

First, some background: It’s time to update the Salisbury 2020 plan and set some guiding principles for the city going forward. Before a steering committee appointed for this purpose could set sights on the future, the czb consulting firm helping with the process wanted to be sure residents serving on the committee had a firm grasp on the present.

So czb gave them a briefing book that lays out the firm’s “operating hunch” and the reasons for it.

“Salisbury is losing ground in a growing and economically vibrant region where there are lots of communities competing for the same residents and businesses,” czb’s report says. “It is the second, third or fourth option for those who have options.”

Some of the reasons czb cites are:

More empty houses. Since 2000, the city’s residential vacancy rate has climbed from 9 percent to 14.5 percent, when 5 percent is considered healthy.

Growing poverty. The city’s poverty rate has risen alarmingly (our adverb not czb’s). For families with children, the poverty rate has jumped from 19.5 percent to 35 percent since 2000, czb says.

Matter of degrees. The percentage of Salisbury adults with a college degree, 23.5, hasn’t budged in 16 years. Meanwhile, the state’s percentage of adults with a degree grew from 22.5 percent to 27.8 percent.

Wages.  Median family income in today’s real dollars — which czb puts at $41,000 — has not budged since 2000, unless you adjust for inflation, in which case it has fallen by almost 27 percent.

Downtown vacancies. Downtown Salisbury is charming, but it has unhealthy levels of vacancy and underutilization.

On the plus side. The city has a suburban commercial environment along the interstate, which is “important to sales and property tax revenue and the city’s bottom line.”

Split commercial personality.  “But which is the face of Salisbury in the region’s mind, and where is investment and spending most drawn to? And which of the two — if not both — have enduring value for the long term?

That’s just one of several tough questions facing the steering committee. The czb briefing book also mentions other signs of losing ground. This is by no means a condemnation of the city; Salisbury has many positives, too. One of the positives is the comprehensive planning process and the willingness to view the city, warts and all, and figure out the way to a better future.