Sylva might save struggling group by hiring director itself

The fate of the organization tasked with marketing and promoting downtown Sylva remains in flux, but it appears positioned to survive in a yet-to-be determined restructured form.

“We are working very cooperatively, jointly with the town board, to come up with what we think will be the best solution — at this point, we don’t know what that is,” Lucy Wofford, president of the Downtown Sylva Association, said this week.

Town Manager Adrienne Isenhower last week presented three options to town commissioners, telling them that the $15,000 contribution town leaders agreed to earlier might not be enough to keep the organization afloat. That amount represented a $3,000 increase over this year’s funding for the group.

DSA initially requested $25,000 from Sylva leaders, saying anything less would jeapordize the group’s solvency. Director Julie Sylvester told commissioners that to continue raising money directly from members, namely downtown businesses, was not financially sustainable. Wofford said she agreed with Sylvester’s assessment, saying it put the group into more of a merchants association’s role than that of a Main Street organization.

Being a state Main Street group opens the door to certain state grants and support. Under the program, however, DSA is required to have a paid director.

Isenhower said the first option available to commissioners would leave the DSA at $15,000. The second option would bring a DSA director in-house as a town employee at $18 dollars an hour, 20 hours a week (with no benefits) for a total salary of $20,150 a year. And the third option would also bring the director in-house, but would add duties as a town planner, which the town currently lacks, bringing the amount needed for a fulltime salary up to $44,800 ($30,000 salary plus benefits).

Commissioner Harold Hensley said this week that if DSA decided they did need more than the original $15,000, then for his part, the position of director would definitely need to move to being a town employee.

DSA Board Member Robin Kevlin said she sees no problem with the director of DSA becoming a paid employee of Sylva.

“Everything is up for discussion,” she said, adding that for DSA’s part, “we’re basically waiting to see what the town of Sylva is going to do, what their wishes are.”

Although DSA’s purpose, witnessed by its name, is nuturing a vibrant downtown, Hensley has repeatedly questioned pumping town tax dollars into a group that benefits only one commercial district of town.

Kevlin expressed sympathy for Hensley’s wish to see DSA’s focus expand beyond the downtown area — “if they are going to give the money, I understand what they are saying,” she said.

There might be a model nearby to do just that.

The Franklin Main Street Program is different from the Downtown Waynesville Association and the Downtown Sylva Association in that it’s not solely limited to the downtown business district.

While historic downtown Franklin is the only area that qualifies for the state’s program, locally they’ve expanded the vision to include the other commercial districts in the town limits.

Jackson County currently handles zoning enforcement for Sylva, with $5,000 in the town’s budget set aside for payment. That money, under the third option, could go toward a fulltime in-house town planner/DSA director.

The town manager was instructed by the board to get more financial numbers on DSA together for commissioners to consider. She plans on presenting those at the next town meeting, set to take place June 2 at 5:30 p.m. Isenhower said she hopes for a decision on DSA and a vote on the town’s overall budget at that same meeting.

Each of the three options, framed as a “new proposal using fund balance and/or capital reserve,” would see a police officer added to patrol downtown for $16,500, and gives the police chief and assistant police chief raises that total $7,520 (including benefits). A downtown officer was an important issue for Commissioner Danny Allen, a former police officer himself.

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