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Sylva begins budget discussions

Allen Street. Allen Street.

With budget season in full swing, Sylva commissioners have begun discussing their priorities for how to spend taxpayer dollars in the 2022-2023 fiscal year. 

A few items are already determined. Allen Street slope repair , public restrooms and playground equipment at Bryson Park will all be possible through State Capital Infrastructure Funds , direct appropriations in the state budget. According to Town Manager Paige Dowling, Mayor Linda Sossamon worked closely with state representatives to secure this money. 

There is $250,000 available for public restrooms in downtown Sylva. At the budget workshop, commissioners debated the best placement for the bathrooms. Dowling told the board that to secure the funding, they needed to decide on a location quickly. Commissioners debated the merits of building the bathroom on Spring Street between Mill and Main streets, and at the old railroad depot. By the end of the discussion, most commissioners were in favor of a Spring Street location, as it would be more easily accessible to people on Main Street. 

Budget requests from the public works department included a full-time maintenance technician at an annual cost of $57,000. At the workshop, Public Works Director Jake Scott noted how his department had consistently worked overtime throughout the year. Public works also needs to replace a truck for about $45,000, as well as salt spreader costing $7,000. 

The police department will need to replace two vehicles this year to keep up with its vehicle replacement schedule. However, the department is looking at hybrid and electric options for the upgrades. 

“We would be requesting to try to upgrade our fleet at the normal schedule but do it in a more environmentally conscious way with the hybrid option,” said Assistant Police Chief John Thomas. 

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The whole setup for a hybrid police car would cost $50,000, about the same as the cost of a new, non-hybrid police car purchased last fiscal year. 

Thus far the town has received $436,296.80 in American Rescue Plan Act money, and by July 1, it will have received a total of $872,594. Town staff recommended using the money to pay salaries retroactively, thereby freeing up money that can be used however commissioners decide, instead of having to use the funds in a manner restricted by ARPA guidelines. 

Commissioner David Nestler asked that the money still be separated within the general fund for purposes of clearly showing the public how the money will be used. Town staff agreed, saying that would be easy to do. 

The town will likely need to budget more money for the sidewalk project to happen alongside the N.C. 107 expansion . Sylva has already allocated $70,000 within the 2019-2020 and 2021-2022 budgets and has committed a total of $170,000. 

Board Priorities 

Mayor Linda Sossamon’s first priority is the Scotts Creek Watershed plan , a plan that would allow Scotts Creek to be removed from North Carolina’s impaired waters list. The estimated project cost is $423,000. The town budgeted for construction documents last year, and those are ready to go. 

“The reason I like that [watershed plan] is because it’s a shovel ready project,” said Sossamon. “We already have the cost and everything.”

Sossamon would also like to see upgrades to Town Hall, as well as the Community Table. Town Hall needs an air purification system. According to Sossamon, the Community Table has had difficulty accepting food donations due to lack of storage space. The organization has been approved for grant money that could purchase more storage space, including additional freezers and refrigerators. However, the building does not have adequate support in the floors or space to accommodate the new equipment. 

“I do think that since it is our building, we need to double check and maintain those things,” said Sossamon. “She feeds a lot of people through there.”

Commissioner David Nestler said implementing the Scotts Creek Watershed Plan was also at the top of his list for budget priorities. He also listed public restrooms, Pinnacle Park plans, Bryson Park upgrades and Allen Street repairs as priorities. 

Assessing zoning districts was also on Nestler’s list, though he said this may be more of a time commitment than a budget commitment. 

“I’m so glad you brought that up, that’s something that I meant to do,” said Dowling. 

She said would also like to work this year to get the zoning map to match the existing districts. 

Nestler brought up a plan to provide low-cost internet to all residential households in Sylva by having the town pay the base rate for all units in the city limits. He said that if the town provided the service, it could be paid for with a one-and-a-quarter cent tax rate increase, raising taxes an average of $2 per month, per household. 

One of Commissioner Mary Gelbaugh’s priorities is a cement pump track or a skateboard park. 

“A pump track is a little bit more universal,” said Gelbaugh. “It could be used by rollerbladers, runners, bicycles or longboards. It’s a little bit more versatile to small children or to adults that just want to have a small track of entertainment.”

Commissioner Greg McPherson said he would like to see signs welcoming people into Sylva, similar to the Grindstaff Cove Road sign erected in 2019. 

Official department budget requests will be turned into town staff by March 4 and on March 24 commissioners will hold another budget work session.   

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