Good intentions, bad idea

Published 8:19 am Friday, January 7, 2011

An Isle of Wight County Schools fundraising project — as reported on the Business page of our Wednesday edition — seems harmless on the surface. In short, the schools will get a cut of the action when patrons make purchases online from certain national retailers.

In trying to raise a little extra cash for student activities in lean fiscal times, however, the school division may be unwittingly contributing to a big problem in rural America: the demise of the hometown merchant.

Small-town, independent retailers have a hard enough time as it is competing against their big-box brethren. The Internet has rendered the playing field even more uneven because some online retailers do not charge sales tax, as local merchants are required to do.

School divisions like Isle of Wight, in encouraging patrons to spend their dollars online with national retailers, are indirectly discouraging residents from shopping at home and supporting local merchants.

Because local merchants collect sales taxes and pay a big chunk of the property taxes that fund public education, the schools may be doing themselves long-range harm by steering consumers elsewhere.

We hope the school division, upon further analysis, will seek better ways to raise some short-term cash.