Archived News

Jackson County hits brakes on Sylva’s municipal grant request

Jackson County hits brakes on Sylva’s municipal grant request

Each year, the Jackson County Commission offers the Municipal Grant Program in which municipalities can apply for grants of up to $5,000. The grants are intended to assist Jackson municipalities with the implementation of projects that will benefit all citizens of the county. While commissioners appear poised to approve three of the four requests from Dillsboro, Webster and Village of Forest Hills at its upcoming Jan. 17 meeting, it will not consider Sylva’s application.

“Often with these municipal grants that max at $20,000, it serves as a PR component to our communities and towns” said Commissioner Mark Jones.

The town of Sylva has applied for a $5,000 grant to start a Sylva Art Walk that includes murals, marketing rack cards for the walk and kiosks to hold brochures and other promotional materials.

The Murals on Mill project will bring new murals to Mill Street, giving several local and regional artists the chance to showcase their work. This portion of the project will entail three rotating murals on Mill Street over the course of the year. Art walk rack cards will include a map and QR code to the Sylva Art Walk web page. This site will include photos of all public art, galleries in downtown Sylva and maps and addresses for each. This approach allows for the flexibility to incorporate new projects as they come up.

Commission Chairman Mark Letson and Commissioner Mark Jones voiced approval for granting Syvla’s funding request. Jones noted that Sylva had agreed to take on future budget needs associated with the project such as switching out information in the kiosks and updating public art information on the website.

Commissioners John Smith, Todd Bryson and Tom Stribling voiced opposition to Sylva’s funding request.

“I would kind of like a little more information on the type of artwork,” said Smith. “Make sure it’s family friendly for the families and kids that’s walking downtown.”

Commissioner Bryson agreed.

“If it’s not family-friendly, I don’t want it,” said Bryson.

Bryson also wanted assurance that none of the grant money would go toward facilitation of Sylva’s social district.

At another point during the Jan. 10 board of commissioners meeting, Bryson inquired as to whether the county could pass ordinances to override municipality ordinances. Bryson was vocally opposed to the implementation of a social district when the town was considering the ordinance, prior to his becoming a commissioner.

In a presentation to the board, Sylva Commissioner Greg McPherson explained that funds would only be used for what was outlined in the grant application, and that public mural artwork would be selected by the Public Art Committee with deference given to local and regional artists.

“This is a great idea and stuff, but I would rather see these funds go towards fixing Bryson Park,” said Stribling. “Let’s fix that first, that’s what I would say.”

McPherson and the Main Street Economic Director Burnadette Peters explained to commissioners that money has already been allocated to the Allen Street slope repair and Bryson Park upgrades and that work is in progress toward the eventual reopening of both.

Stribling told the Smoky Mountain News that even though Bryson Park upgrades had been fully funded, he would like to see municipal grant money go towards something other than public art.

“I don’t know what all the Town of Sylva is in need of, but I’m sure there’s a list of other stuff that money can go towards besides artwork on the side of a building,” said Stribling.

After the Jackson County Commissioners decided to not move forward with the grant application for its upcoming meeting, Sylva commissioners discussed the application at their Thursday, Jan. 12 meeting.

“It sounded like censorship, and I think the last thing you want is politicians engaging in what is and what is not art,” said Commissioner Ben Guiney. “I was really disappointed in the county commissioners for the discussion which veered off into Bryson Park. I was hoping that we could go back and maybe have a little bit more discussion about what public art is, why it’s important and what it is we’re actually asking for. Hopefully they can understand that government can do many things and it has to do many things. They take care of parks, they fix roads, they [commission] public art and you have to wear many hats when you’re in these seats.”

Guiney suggested Sylva maintain the request and go back before the board to have more discussion.

“The point of this grant is to foster cooperation between municipal governments and county government,” said Commissioner David Nestler. “I think it’s a good opportunity to ask for their trust in this. Their request to censor public art, I think we can all agree that that’s not a good approach to this grant.”

Commissioners were also surprised at the lack of understanding of the current status of the Bryson Park and Allen Street projects, noting the continued and detailed coverage in The Sylva Herald.

Sylva commissioners plan to return to the Jackson County Commission, maintaining the current municipal grant application. Town Manager Paige Dowling and Public Works Director Jake Scott will go before the County Commission to provide an update on the Allen Street/ Bryson Park project.

“The town and county work together tremendously well from a staff point, maintenance point, and the cost sharing with the Sylva pool, the maintenance on the fountain, especially the fire department funding.,” said Dowling. “So we are very grateful to them and their assistance on all these things.”

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.