Last week the leaders of the Downtown Sylva Association decided they wouldn’t ask the town board for a special taxing district to fund the organization’s activities. After surveying business and property owners and gauging the feelings of the board members, the writing was on the wall. The board was not going to approve it. The tax almost certainly did not have the support of a majority of those who would have to pay it. Most who has been following this issue felt strongly that not voting on the tax was better than a “no” vote from the town board.
The lack of overwhelming support for the downtown taxing district is revealing. Most obvious is that the downtown area still has businesses that depend on wide variety of customers for their success. In most towns where special taxing districts have been created, tourism has taken over as the main business the central business district. While tourism is important in Sylva, it’s not the only game in town.
There are several good reasons to think a special taxing district would benefit everyone who operates a business in the downtown area. Aside from the obvious benefits — group marketing and physical improvements — a special taxing district could have a unifying effect. Since it would provide money for staff, perhaps a monthly newsletter, someone to knock on doors and hear concerns, the lines of communication would open up.
Everyone who wants downtown Sylva to succeed needs to be reminded of what preceded last week’s town board meeting and the showdown on the special taxing district — the decision by the board in June to slash funding for the Downtown Sylva Association from $20,000 per year to $2,000. While a majority of property owners in the downtown area may not want to be singled out for a special tax, many of those same businesses may still want the town to provide more money for the DSA. If that’s the case, then town commissioners need to hear it.
Just like incentives for industries that create jobs, a successful downtown is an economic engine for the entire county but especially for the town. Property values remain high enough to generate lots of tax money, successful businesses hire more employees and the allure of a thriving, diverse downtown is one of the drivers for the second-home market that is fueling Jackson’s County’s construction industry.
The debate over the special taxing district for Sylva — at least for now — ended last week. The real issue, however, is not the tax but the continued vitality of the downtown area and its ability to market itself as an alternative to strip centers and big boxes. That’s the real goal for business and property owners, the Downtown Sylva Association and elected officials. The tax is just one means of helping succeed, one that too many folks just aren’t willing to support right now.