Town leaders say property owner opinions will be deciding factor in downtown tax

Leaders of the Downtown Sylva Association are drumming up support for a special taxing district that would raise money to promote downtown.


The special tax, paid by property or business owners in the district, theoretically boosts downtown commerce and benefits everyone’s bottom line while also nurturing a thriving downtown community. It is a common model in many downtown areas. But the concept is proving a hard sell among some business and property owners who aren’t sure that the extra tax is a good idea

Advocates of the special taxing district are trying to get as many property owners as possible on board by Feb. 15 when the Downtown Sylva Association is slated to go before the town board and pitch the idea. The special taxing district must by endorsed by the town board.

Town board members say they will take their cues from the property and business owners who would being paying the special tax.

“If someone wants to vote themselves a tax increase, that’s their business,” said town board member Harold Hensley.

Hensley and town board member Ray Lewis — considered the most skeptical of the special taxing district out of the five town board members — attended a recent drop-in meeting hosted by the DSA to learn more about the proposal.

“The people you need to be selling this thing to is the people who are the property owners, or this thing will be dead in the water,” Hensley told the organizers of the meeting.

“It will depend on the property owners,” Lewis agreed.

When asked hypothetically what side he would be on if he was one of those downtown property owners, Lewis thought about it for a few seconds before answering.

“If I were a property owner downtown I guess I would be against it,” Lewis said.

Neither Lewis nor Hensley are convinced that downtown should get special treatment over other areas of town.

“I’m one of those people who lives closer to Wal-Mart than downtown,” added Hensley.

Meanwhile, town board member Maurice Moody is working with the Downtown Sylva Association to drum up support for the special taxing district. Although he supports the idea personally, he said he will still follow the wishes of the majority of property and business owners, but didn’t say how much of a majority was needed.

“I don’t think there’s a magic number at this point. I think we need to keep an open mind,” said Moody.

Lewis and Hensley said they will likely weigh the opinions of the big property owners more heavily than smaller business owners. The tax amounts to $200 a year for every $100,000 of a property’s listed tax value. One of the biggest property owners downtown would be looking at an extra $4,000 a year.

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