Sylva delays Allen Street funding decision
Sylva Town Manager Paige Dowling presented two options during the town board’s Aug. 26 meeting for funding the $2 million needed to repair landslides on Allen Street, but her ultimate recommendation was that commissioners pass on both and wait for help.
“It’s my opinion that we need to get some state or federal help to make this repair possible,” Dowling said.
A 150-foot section of Allen Street and Bryson Park have both been closed since spring 2020 due to one of the two areas of cracked pavement and vertical displacement now visible on the narrow, winding road. The estimated price tag for the repair is equivalent to 40% of the town’s entire budget for this year. The town has already appropriated $750,000 toward the repair from fund balance and covering the remaining cost from that same account would bring the balance down to 40.73% of the town’s annual budget, well below the amount recommended for towns Sylva’s size.
“We couldn’t feasibly take all of this from fund balance,” said Dowling. “We would be in real financial trouble.”
Recent flooding in Haywood County has only emphasized that conclusion. Towns carry high fund balances percentages so that when such a catastrophe strikes, they can address the immediate needs and cleanup costs that follow. While state and federal aid helps with disaster relief, that aid usually comes in the form of reimbursements for previously shouldered expenses, and the money typically takes years to come through.
“That’s the reason that towns carry a higher fund balance so that you have a reserve that can cover a catastrophe like that,” said Commissioner David Nestler.
The other option Dowling presented would draw the fund balance down to a more responsible 60% but take the rest of the money — $848,000 — from the Fisher Creek Fund. That’s also an unappealing option, as a portion of that fund is restricted so that it can be used only for water quality projects. If the town used the Fisher Creek Fund to pay for Allen Street repairs, the unrestricted portion would fall to around $1 million, and the town has been planning for on the fund to cover ongoing maintenance, planning and trail development at Pinnacle Park and adjacent conserved lands.
“That fund needs to last forever to maintain Fisher Creek,” Dowling said.
The town has been trying for months to get help with the road repairs, but has not yet heard back on its June 10 request for $750,000 in state funding. In a resolution passed on that date, Sylva requested $250,000 apiece from contingency funds controlled by the N.C. House, N.C. Senate and N.C. Secretary of Transportation. As part of the request, the town pledged to match state funding with $750,000 of its own money to complete repairs that at that time were estimated at $1.5 million.
Additionally, Mayor Lynda Sossamon said Aug. 26, the town has requested funding from Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s office.
The town believes it will hear back on all four funding requests this fall. Dowling hopes to know something on the state contingency requests after the budget passes, which is expected to happen in September. Federal funding decisions wouldn’t occur until October, Sossamon said.
Those considerations led commissioners to a consensus that they should wait another month to decide on funding. A somewhat positive report from Public Works Director Jake Scott regarding Tropical Storm Fred’s effect on the landslide also contributed to that decision. The Monday following the Aug. 17 storm, geologists went out to measure slope movement on Allen Street and found that the northern failure had moved by less than an inch and the southern failure had moved by a full inch.
That’s “a substantial amount of movement,” said Scott.
“However,” he said, “given the weather event that we went through everybody’s pretty pleased that’s all we had to deal with.”
Leave a comment
Come on folks. It's time to fix Allen Street. I have friends who live up there. Are you prepared to trade places with them? Just get the job done. Borrow what is needed to do the job and work on raising the fund balance for future events in Sylva. This is unacceptable.
If this happened on your street, I think it would be fixed.