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Sylva aims to expand role of Main Street director

Main Street in Sylva. File photo Main Street in Sylva. File photo

Sylva taxpayers may be looking at a one-cent tax increase in the coming 2023-24 fiscal year. In return for that increase, the town would see the Main Street Sylva director’s position move from half-time to full-time with greatly expanded responsibilities. 

“Personally, I can’t imagine a better benefit to the town of Sylva, that would only cost the average residential user $1.56 a month, than to add this position, especially at this time,” said Mayor David Nestler. “We know that with all the projects we have going on and the upcoming N.C. 107 task that we’re understaffed in administration.” 

During a March 23 work session, Town Manager Paige Dowling informed the Sylva Board of Commissioners that staff was able to balance a draft of the 2023-24 budget with a one-cent tax increase, which would pay for the transition of the Main Street Sylva director from a part-time position to a full-time position. 

The Main Street Sylva Association is a nonprofit entity formed to spur economic development in Sylva using the National Main Street Center’s Four Point Approach: design, organization, promotion and economic restructuring. The organization has taken on some of Sylva’s longstanding events such as Greening Up the Mountains, Treat Street and the Christmas Parade. 

The full-time Main Street Sylva director would have additional duties beyond what the position currently entails at half-time, largely in an effort to expand the business liaison role beyond just Main Street. As the N.C. 107 expansion looms near, the town wants to have an employee dedicated to economic development and assisting businesses that will be affected by the project. 

“It’s not just making the Main Street director full-time, it’s actually changing what the Main Street director does,” said Commissioner Ben Guiney. “It’s much more economic development director rather than just Main Street director.”

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At the March 23 budget workshop, commissioners received a list of duties that would be assigned to the full-time Main Street director. In addition to economic development work, the position would be the central contact in town government for anyone who is starting a business. The person in the position would also be expected to fill in on administrative duties at town hall when staff is overwhelmed.

“[This position has] been primarily focused on the downtown business district, and this is very much an expansion outside of that to include all of Sylva and help more with administrative tasks,” said Mayor David Nestler. “It’s very timely because with NC 107 impact starting to come to fruition now, this expands town staff’s ability to address issues all the way down 107 and if you look down through this list, you’ll see that is definitely made a priority in the expansion of this role.” 

During the budget work session, Commissioner Mary Gelbaugh noted that at one point several years ago the town had discussed hiring a position in public works that would have been a liaison for the NC 107 project. Manager Dowling said this expansion of the Main Street director role would fill those responsibilities, plus more. 

While Gelbaugh expressed some hesitation at the idea of expanding the Main Street director’s role and paying for it with a tax increase, she said she is coming around to the idea. With the rest of the Sylva’s commissioners fully onboard, town staff will move forward with the position and tax increase in its draft budget, which will be sent to board members April 18 and discussed during a budget work session April 27. 

Commissioner Natalie Newman said, “if I had to guess, I bet [part-time Main Street Director] Bernadette [Peters] is already putting full-time hours and brain power into the position, just seeing all that she’s done.”

“That’s a very good point, she’s definitely putting in more than 20 hours a week, and that’s because of her commitment to the town and to our businesses,” said Dowling. 

“I’m strongly in favor of us doing this one-cent [increase] and I think it’s very impressive that you’ve managed to balance this budget and add this position with only a one-cent increase,” Nestler told town staff. “I think that shows a very efficient use of town funds.” 

The average increase in property taxes for residential property owners if the one-cent tax increase is implemented would be $19 for the year, and a one-cent tax increase would cost the average commercial property owner $75 for the year. 

No tax increase will be voted on or become official until the 2023-2024 fiscal year budget is approved in June. 

Other major changes coming in the 2023-24 budget involve the loss of about $20,000 in revenue due to the NC 107 widening project from parcels that have been taken to make room for the road and thereby removed from the town’s tax base. Staff are also recommending a 3% combined cost of living and merit increase and are accounting for an increase in the overall cost of items as a result of inflation. 

“There’s a lot of changes in the cost of items, things are just more expensive,” said Dowling. 

With all of the increase in demand on the budget, the main reason staff have been able to balance the proposed budget is due to ABC revenue, of which the town will receive an additional $160,000. 

“We’re able to find that out early this year, so we budgeted for that, whereas in the past we haven’t known this early and that’s been something we haven’t counted on to balance the budget,” said Dowling. 

Town staff are also recommending a change to the capital replacement schedule for town vehicles. Historically, police vehicles have to be cycled out after seven years, public works vehicles after about 10 years, large fire trucks every 20 years and small fire trucks every 10 years.

Generally, if the town has money leftover at year end, the additional funds roll into capital reserves. However, for the last three years, instead of putting leftover funds into capital reserves, that money has gone into the Allen Street fund. So, while the capital reserve fund is currently lower than town staff would like it to be, money for vehicles can also come from the general fund. And while the town can afford to replace two vehicles each year, replacing three is a serious burden on the town budget. 

By extending the replacement schedule for patrol vehicles to an eight-year rotation, and putting in additional money for maintenance, the town can avoid having to replace three vehicles in one year. 

“The best thing is, we’ve got several years where at a seven-year replacement schedule, we’d buy three patrol cars a year,” said Dowling. “Sylva can afford to buy one or two, but three would strain the budget, so if we stretch it out to eight years and add in a little more for maintenance, we can avoid the years we’re having to buy three cars. We need to make that change.”

Part of the reason that the town will be able to extend the lifetime of its patrol cars is because of the switch from Dodge Chargers to SUVs like Ford Explorers and Dodge Durangos. 

“We’re seeing a lot better life expectancy out of the SUVs that we’ve been purchasing for the last several years,” said Public Works Director Jake Scott. “Cutting out the year where we have to make a three-car purchase, it’s basically two per year until 2040 is how far we’ve gone out with the schedule.” 

Town staff are also proposing painting the exterior of town hall and the public works building in the coming year and allocating $35,000 in Powell Bill funds to pave Second Avenue when the Mountain Projects homes are completed. 

“I think we’re good this year, but we’re lucky,” said Dowling. “With the ABC funds and then knowing that our tax base is shrinking and the cost of everything is going up, especially with vehicles and looking at the equipment that public works needs in the next few years, we’ll be talking about a tax increase soon.” 

Commissioners will receive a balanced draft budget in April and will hold its next work session on the topic April 27. 

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