Downtown taxing districts are relatively simple. Building owners in a specific area of a town pay a property tax over and above what everyone else in town pays. The money is earmarked specifically for promotions and perhaps infrastructure improvements in the area. The logic for the tax is that the people within the district will see direct benefits, and therefore the extra tax is fair.
In order to work, however, most of the property owners in the special district must share a common vision. In many small downtowns, the shared vision is a desire to fill empty storefronts and restore vigor to a dying business district. Perhaps one of the reasons a tax district has not had widespread buy-in in Sylva in the past is because it is not a dilapidated and deteriorating business district. Quite the opposite, downtown Sylva has a healthy mix of businesses and is vibrant, with only a handful of empty buildings.
But it could be better. The money from the special tax could pay for a professional staff person with a background in marketing and planning. Special promotions that help downtown Sylva merchants and attract customers and new businesses to the area help the economy of all of Jackson County.
The downtown shopping experience also serves as a counter-balance to the growing influence of big-box stores. Once a town becomes nothing but an endless sea of chain stores, its personality simply vanishes. A special taxing district whose money is used to help all of the businesses within its confines is a way to help small towns retain their special flavor as the world around becomes homogenized.
So far, DSA officials say the response has been positive to the idea of a special taxing district. They’ve been canvassing the downtown area and discussing the issue with property owners. Once it is adopted, many owners willingly say they will pass the tax burden onto tenants. Truth be told that’s not an unfair way to pay it.
If the tax is 20 cents per $100 of value, that means the owner of a $200,000 property will be paying $400 more per year in property tax. That is not a huge amount of money.
The idea of a downtown taxing district and the growth of a strong Downtown Sylva Association won’t happen, however, unless town commissioners give it their support. Instead of believing things will continue to go well without a strong DSA, town leaders should imagine what their downtown could be with a successful and financially sound DSA.