Election talk starts in Sylva
When election candidate sign-ups begin next week, at least one town board member plans on putting her hat in the ring for the mayor’s seat.
Barbara Hamilton, in the midst of her first elected term on the town board after being appointed to a vacancy in 2012, has already declared her intention to run.
Mayor Maurice Moody, who did not run in the last mayoral election either but wound up appointed to the job when top vote-getter Chris Matheson said no to the job, has already said he’s not running, leaving the seat wide open.
Hamilton believes tax rates and town-government relations will be top issues for the new town board.
This year marked the fourth in a row that the town dipped into its fund balance — government speak for “savings account” — to pay the bills, a situation that Hamilton said is untenable. Going forward, the town will have to figure out another way to generate revenue, especially with Jackson County’s property revaluation going into effect for the upcoming fiscal year. Property values are expected to go down, which means governments will see a decline in revenue if the current tax rates remain in place.
“I don’t want to hurt anybody. I don’t want to increase anyone’s taxes, but it’s gotten to the point where there won’t be any choice,” Hamilton said. She pointed to state actions — such as the Legislature’s decision last year to prevent local governments from collecting business license fees — as restricting the ways that towns can raise revenue.
Sitting commissioners agreed that the tax rate is likely to be the big issue of the next year.
“Everybody knows there’s going to be a tax increase, both city and county, with the revaluation coming up next year, so I think that we shouldn’t spend if we don’t have to, and we need to look at bringing in extra businesses and people in the town to help offset that tax increase,” said Danny Allen, whose term ends this year.
Public input should be a part of all those decisions, Hamilton said, something she believes is not a big enough part of town decisions now.
“It’s going to be a very challenging time, and I’m open to a lot of ideas,” Hamilton said. “I’d like to see more merchants attend our meetings and even just the public in general. We always have room for public comment and very few people show up.”
For instance, town commissioners recently scheduled a pair of public comment sessions on changes to traffic patterns on Main Street, saying they’d heard next to nothing on the topic from their constituents and hoped a formal comment session would yield some input.
Hamilton, a retired registered nurse who finished her 25-year career at Harris Regional Hospital, believes she has the connections and commitment to the community that will help bridge that perceived gap. She’s on the boards for Jackson County Neighbors in Need, the Jackson County Library and the Main Street Association, and she makes a point of greeting new business owners when they move downtown.
David Nestler, president of the Sylva Main Street Association and owner of Tree of Life Woodworks, agrees with much of what Hamilton has to say. The 30-year-old is planning to get his name on the ballot as well in a bid for a seat on the town board.
Nestler touts his experience on the Main Street Association board as giving him a solid understanding of town government and strong relationships with leaders and merchants. He’s also on the board of directors for the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority.
And, he believes that his youth will be an asset to a board whose average age tops 60. If elected, Nestler would be the youngest member of the board.
“I think I’m uniquely positioned to hear everybody’s perspective easily and make decisions based on that,” he said.
Nestler’s not alone in his thought that the town board could use some younger voices.
“I wish there would be some younger people that would consider running because we have a lot of the elderly people that think differently. This is a young person’s world,” said Allen, who has served on the board for 12 years.
As for the rest of the likely contenders? There’d been some rumor around town that Allen was planning on a run for the mayor’s seat. It likely stemmed from a conversation he had with a couple other board members last fall, Allen said, but as of now he’s not planning to run — though nothing’s set in stone.
“I’m saying definite no right now,” he said. “Things could change. I’ve been there 12 years. I want to get on with my life.”
Commissioner Lynda Sossaman had also been rumored to be planning a run, but like Allen, she couldn’t say whether she’d be on the ballot as a commissioner candidate, a mayoral candidate or not at all.
“I haven’t made up my mind about anything yet,” she said.
Long-time board member Harold Hensley isn’t considering a run for mayor but was similarly noncommittal when asked whether he planned to run for re-election.
“I’m looking stronger and stronger that way,” he said about another run, “but I haven’t really made my mind up.”
Mary Gelbaugh, who won her seat in 2013, is not up for election this year, nor is Hamilton. If Hamilton loses her bid for mayor, she’ll keep her seat on the board, while any other incumbent board members who choose to run would forfeit their seat on the board if they lost the election.
Dates to keep in mind
• Election filing start: 8 a.m. Monday, July 6
• Election filing end: noon Friday, July 17
• Primary Election voter registration deadline: Friday, Aug. 21
• Primary Election: 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15
• General Election voter registration deadline: Friday, Oct. 9
• General Election: 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3