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Wednesday, 22 November 2006 00:00

Many Sylva building owners support downtown tax

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By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Most business and property owners have reacted positively to a Downtown Sylva Association proposal to create a municipal service district that would tax the downtown area to pay for improvements, say DSA officials.

 

“We’ve had some people that said, ‘Absolutely, we are completely for it.’ We’ve had some people that say, ‘No, not another tax,’” said Marybeth Druzbick, chair of the DSA’s economic restructuring committee.

DSA board members have been going door-to-door, talking to downtown property and business owners about the proposed MSD. The district would encompass the downtown area generally from the historic courthouse to the intersection of N.C. 107 and Business 23, and from the neighborhood near the Methodist church downtown to Jackson Plaza.

Businesses within the district would pay an extra tax of 20 cents per $100 property value, which would raise an estimated $50,000 annually for the DSA, said president Sheryl Rudd.

A decision has yet to be made about exactly how the funds will be spent; however, plans include supporting DSA’s operating expenses and defraying the cost of advertising for downtown businesses and events.

For example, most of the small-town retail businesses couldn’t afford to purchase an ad in Southern Living magazine by themselves. But with a communal pool, perhaps the DSA could purchase an ad for the all of downtown.

“Getting more traffic is always a good thing for everybody,” Druzbick said.

Someone brought downtown by a restaurant may notice an insurance agent’s office, or someone shopping for gifts may decide to look for some real estate as well.

One of the problems DSA board members have encountered on the MSD campaign trail is that business and property owners have misgivings about how the tax would be administered and who will be using the funds generated. Some have been confused, thinking that the tax would be levied by the Town of Sylva for town services.

“There have been comments made that if you’re part of this MSD your taxes are going to go up 48 percent,” Druzbick said. While there will be an increase “it’s an entirely different tax for an entirely different purpose.”

The tax would be levied against property owners, who may not necessarily also be business owners. In those cases, costs may be passed on.

“It’s up to the landlord to work that out with the tenant,” Rudd said.

For example, property owner David Schulman — son of long-time Sylva businessman Sol Schulman — has said that he supports the MSD and will pay a portion of the tax himself and pass a portion on to building tenants.

DSA board members have set a self-imposed deadline to talk to each downtown property and business owner about the MSD before Christmas. The DSA will hold a retreat in January at which time it will discuss presenting its findings to the town board, which requested the DSA contact each property and business owner potentially affected by the tax. The town board would have to enact and collect the tax, in turn handing it over to the DSA. The tax most likely would not go into effect for a year, if the board approved it.

Meanwhile, the DSA also has plans to discuss hiring replacements for the organization’s grant writer and office administrator, who both recently resigned. The grant writing position is not a paid position, rather commissions are earned based on grants received.

The office administrator’s position, which Linda Gilman formerly held, was a paid salary position. Gilman went back to school, enrolling at Western Carolina University this year.

“When she resigned she stated that she wanted to spend more time with her studies at Western,” Rudd said.

Rudd and one of Druzbick’s fellow employees at the Coldwell-Banker real estate office are filling in at the DSA office answering phone calls and working on the organization’s most immediate project — the Sylva Christmas Parade.

Former DSA board member Phyllis Foxx, who always coordinated the parade, also resigned, giving the organization the task of pulling everything together for the Nov. 28 event. The parade will begin at the Community Services Building behind Harris Regional Hospital at 7 p.m. and reach downtown by about 7:40 p.m., Rudd said. The 14

grand marshals are the Smoky Mountain Pee Wee Cracker Bowl Champs.

“We just felt because of their hard work and community spirit they would make a great grand marshal this year,” Rudd said.

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