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Sylva leaders to discuss proposed downtown tax

Controversy among downtown Sylva merchants and property owners could either escalate or come to a close this week, depending on what route the Downtown Sylva Association takes at a town board meeting Thursday expected to draw crowds of merchants.


The Downtown Sylva Association has floated the idea of an extra downtown property tax that would raise money to promote and improve downtown — from festivals to aesthetic upgrades — theoretically generating more foot traffic and increasing commerce. It is an increasingly popular model to keep downtown districts vibrant. The property tax would amount to $200 per business on average, although some would be looking at more than $1,000 a year.

The Downtown Sylva Association has been weighing support for the tax among merchants and building owners for several months. They will share the results of their opinion poll at the Sylva Town Board meeting Thursday, Dec. 15. The town board would ultimately have to approve the tax.

“The town board has stated very clearly they are going with whatever the majority feels,” said Sarah Graham, the director of the Downtown Sylva Association.

The Downtown Sylva Association wouldn’t reveal the results of its opinion poll prior to Thursday’s town meeting, however, nor whether it would ask the town board to adopt the special downtown tax.

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“We aren’t willing to say that at this point,” Graham said.

Some merchants were incensed by the prospect of a downtown tax and resent what they saw as an attempt by a select group of merchants to force a tax on everyone to support pet projects like festivals. Graham said the Downtown Sylva Association was simply on a fact-finding mission.

“We don’t want to act against the general consensus, but we had to find out what that was,” Graham said.

Graham said she hopes that merchants can work together in the future despite which side of the tax idea they are on.

“We hope everybody who has the best interest of downtown at heart, regardless of their position on the tax, will get together and get on the same page,” said Graham. “People can be against the tax without being against the Downtown Sylva Association.”

But downtown merchant Howard Alligood, owner of The Arsenal Artifacts and Prints, said the division caused by the tax proposal — largely due to the downtown group’s methods — is too deep to be repaired quickly. Alligood said several merchants felt excluded from the process, including the opinion poll.

“They never came down and asked us at this end of the street,” Alligood said. “They don’t cater to us.”

Graham said a positive outcome is the level of dialogue among merchants over downtown’s future.

“One of my main goals in this position is to unify the downtown business district more, have more communication and create an environment where people want to work together for a common goal,” said Graham.

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