Sylva nears final budget
The Sylva Board of Commissioners is one step closer to accepting its budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year. However, the town is still awaiting a decision by the county regarding the Sylva Fire Department and its request for paid personnel.
“Unlike in prior budgets, many long-term needs and priorities of the Board are now possible with the infusion of federal funds and state grants,” Town Manager Paige Dowling’s budget message reads. “The Board is currently prioritizing projects to utilize funding from the American Rescue Plan. The Town of Sylva received state and federal funds to help with the Allen Street slope failures, capital improvements and playground equipment for Bryson Park, and constructing a public restroom downtown. These grant projects are underway and therefore are not included in the proposed budget.”
The budget is proposed without a tax increase; the tax rate will remain $0.44 cents per $100 of property valuation. One penny on the tax rate currently generates $49,200 in Sylva. The general fund budget totals $5,847,875, which is an increase of a little less than $1.5 million or 29% from the original FY 2021-22 budget. When grants and other proceeds are not included, the general fund budget is $4,151,036, which is an increase of almost $400,000 or 10% from last year’s budget.
The budget does not appropriate from the capital reserve fund. Over the last two fiscal years, the town has budgeted for Allen Street repairs instead of adding to capital reserves. Because the town has used capital reserve funds and not added to it, the fund is now at $218,345.
“That is low when looking at upcoming capital needs,” said Dowling. “The public works department needs to replace large equipment in the near future, and we need to plan for this in the capital reserve fund. The town needs to rebuild the capital reserve fund when possible.”
The proposed budget includes an additional employee and vehicle in public works and two patrol cars that keep Sylva on its police car replacement schedule. It also implements a salary study, a Municode recodification and allows the town to continue operating at its current level. The most recent line item added to the budget is the $10,000 for a temporary skate ramp .
The town receives $75,000 annually in Powell Bill funds for paving its roads. According to Dowling, an estimated $39,000 is needed each year above the current funding level to maintain town streets.
There is over $2 million in the Allen Street Slide Capital Project fund, and construction is likely to begin this summer . The town has $3 million in the Bryson Park Improvements SCIF Grant Project fund and $290,000 in the Public Restrooms SCIF Grant Project fund.
A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held May 26 at 5:30 p.m. and the budget will likely be adopted June 9 at 5:30 p.m.
Sylva Fire request
This budget cycle, Sylva had requested funding from the Jackson County Commission for paid personnel at the Sylva Fire Department . It is currently a volunteer department with two full-time fire coordinators paid for by the county. If the county were to fund the request, Sylva would move to a combination department with paid staff and volunteers.
Increasing call volume and fewer volunteers initiated the request for paid personnel. Sylva contracted Brigade Consulting, LLC to recommend a staffing model for the its fire department. The report gave multiple options for the department but ultimately recommended a 24/72 shift with 11 full-time employees. County commissioners are considering funding eight or 11 paid personnel.
However, at the latest budget work session on May 12, the Sylva Board of Commissioners considered withdrawing its request, noting two main concerns — that the request would not fund enough firefighters to support a healthy staff and that a future county commission may decide to no longer fund Sylva’s fire department leaving the town to foot the bill. Commissioners were concerned that it is too close to the budget deadline to work these details out.
“That’s where we’re coming from, we want to hold the county to this and have some real guarantees that moving forward, in the future, for whoever knows how long, that the Sylva Fire Department is going to be funded,” said Commissioner Ben Guiney.
This would be a major change to the budget because the plan was for Sylva to spend the money to fund the fire department and then be reimbursed by the county.
Sylva Fire Chief Mike Beck had the chance to speak with the board before it gave its final direction to the town manager, and he pleaded that the board not rescind its request but accept funding for 11 or eight paid personnel, whichever the county is willing to fund.
“I feel like if we get started, then in future times if things pick up, they’re going to pick up all through the county,” Beck said. “By funding us now, that helps them with mutual aid and insurance rates throughout the county.”
Commissioner David Nestler asked Beck why he would want to rush ahead with eight paid staff members when the report from Brigade Consulting made it clear that Sylva Fire Department already needs 11 paid staff members.
“Because I feel like we should accept what they’ll give us right now so we can get started,” said Beck. “In the future if call volume keeps going up, they will start funding Cullowhee more, us more and some of the outlying parts, increasing staff. But you have to start somewhere and that’s what I’m looking at here. We’re pretty far into it now to back out.”
“I think we shouldn’t take less than 11,” said Nestler.
The county already funds two full-time fire coordinators, as well as payments for the Sylva Fire Department building. If the county were to fund eight paid personnel, an additional $643,212 would be needed for the total funding amount of $1,074,290. If the county were to fund 11 paid staff an additional $760,536 would be needed for the total funding amount of $1,191,613. This would cost the county $0.0055 or $0.0065 cents respectively of the tax rate.
The final direction the board gave to town staff was to accept the funding for any amount of personnel eight or above. At its last meeting the county commission committed to deciding on funding during the week of June 6-10.