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Sylva lays out budget priorities

The conceptual designs for improvements at Bridge Park include a bioretention pond. The conceptual designs for improvements at Bridge Park include a bioretention pond.

The town of Sylva will likely see several upgrades to its public spaces in the coming year if last week’s budget workshop is any indication. Several of the board’s top budget priorities include improvements to parks and other shared spaces.

At a budget workshop on March 24, the Sylva Town Board discussed its budget priorities for the 2022-23 fiscal year. Topping the list for all commissioners were Allen Street repair and slope stabilization, Bryson Park improvements and playground equipment, and downtown public restrooms

The balanced budget draws some money from the capital reserve fund, in part for Allen Street repairs, Town Manager Paige Dowling explained. 

“This does appropriate from the capital reserves fund,” said Dowling. “That’s getting low, but that’s because the last two years we put what would’ve rolled into capital reserves into the Allen Street project. So, as we fund that, we can build the reserves back up.”

The budget is balanced without the inclusion of additional paid fire department staff  because the town intends to see what direction the county takes with the request from the Sylva Fire Department. 

Other top priorities for commissioners include the construction of a skatepark in Sylva, an additional public works employee and implementation of the Bridge Park Scotts Creek watershed plan. 

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Commissioners hope to get funding for the skatepark from sources other than town funds. The board mentioned engaging the county as the Jackson County Commission and Parks and Recreation Department have already discussed building a skatepark . Additionally, there may be money available in the recently passed infrastructure bill. 

There is also the potential for private funding sources through organizations like The Skatepark Project , previously known as the Tony Hawk Foundation. Since its inception in 2002, almost 600 skateparks have opened with partial funding assistance from the foundation. When the skate park in Waynesville was built in 2013, it received funding from this foundation. 

“I definitely think the skate park is a high priority,” said Commissioner Mary Gelbaugh. “I don’t think that the finances all have to come from us at the town. I think that once we figure out the locations, there’s a lot of people in our community that want to advocate for this.”

“We need a skate park,” said Commissioner Ben Guiney. 

The board agreed with Gelbaugh and Guiney in the need for a skatepark in Sylva, as well as the search for funding sources outside of the town’s budget. Several locations were discussed for a future skatepark including Bridge Park, Poteet Park and Mark Watson Park. 

 

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The skatepark in Waynesville, constructed in 2013, received some funding from The Skatepark Project.

 

“We need to involve the skateboarders in this conversation and not put something up that they don’t jibe with,” said Gelbaugh. 

A group of citizens in Jackson County has recently organized to drive forward the possibility of a skatepark in the county. The “Sylva Skatepark Project” meets at 6 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays of the month at Bridge Park. 

The current plan for the Bridge Park Scotts Creek watershed plan does not include, nor have room for a skatepark at Bridge Park. The town has already spent $20,000 on plans for the park and watershed improvement plans, which would have to be redrawn to involve a skate park. 

“I agree that would be a pretty good place for it, but it would take a complete reimagining of the shovel-ready plans that we’ve already paid for,” said Public Works Director Jake Scott. 

At the workshop, Scott walked the board through the improvement plans for Bridge Park that are part of the Scotts Creek watershed plan. The plan includes 57 parking spaces, including two that are ADA accessible, with one-way traffic flow. The bioretention pond is one of the more important aspects of the plan because it slows down and cleans storm water before it hits Scotts Creek. 

“That’s not really something that can be taken out, for the clean water aspect of it,” said Scott. “As you can see, that doesn’t leave any room for a skatepark.”

The project is estimated to cost $430,000 but will largely be funded by Mountain True. Construction will have to be coordinated with the town’s festival schedule and will likely take place during late fall and early winter. 

“I think it’s a phenomenal opportunity to do this,” said Scott. “This has been a budget priority since I’ve been in this [public works] position, and every year it has gotten rolled from year to year because we don’t have the money. It is good that you all authorized us to get the plans and construction documents in the previous year because we’re basically ready to start.”

Commissioner Mcpherson noted that he would like to see a work of public art included in the plans for the Bridge Park improvements. 

“I think this helps everybody out,” said Gelbaugh. “I am a little disappointed there’s not a skate park concept in the Bridge Park area, but that doesn’t mean that Poteet Park might have potential or somewhere else.”

Commissioners decided to fund the additional public works position requested by Scott, to support the department that is consistently overworked, but also because of all the upcoming projects that public works will be involved in. Scott requested the position during budget discussions  earlier this year. 

Other budget priorities include town hall ventilation and air purification upgrades, increasing street repair and paving money, a splash pad, community kitchen, additional town entrance signs and 107 sidewalks. 

The town has budgeted $7,695 for upgrades to air ventilation and air purification systems in town hall, police and fire departments. 

Thirty thousand dollars has been budgeted for sidewalks on the upcoming 107 road work. 

“My recommendation is to keep trying to fund that until we get to the project, and then add money to it, where that money could meet the shortfall we’ve got in street repair and paving,” said Dowling. 

According to Scott, Powell Bill contributions are not keeping up with the current paving needs in Sylva. 

“We’ve got a lot of really rough pavement all over town,” said Scott. 

There are no estimates yet for improvements to the Community Table building. According to Scott, the building is structurally sound and needs small electrical upgrades. There are also no estimates on a splash pad, and commissioners were somewhat split on its necessity for the town. 

At the end of the workshop, Dowling said that staff had received enough information from commissioners to move forward with a draft budget. The next regular meeting of the Sylva town board will take place at 5:30 p.m. April 21, and the next budget work session will take place May 5. 

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