he town of Sylva has begun its budget process for fiscal year 2020-21. It’s a laborious, thankless process that also happens to be one of the most important undertakings town leaders do every year.
The result, ideally, is a responsible document that meets the needs of citizens and visitors to the town, doesn’t place onerous demands on taxpayers and is wrapped up and in place, as required by state law, for the start of the fiscal year on July 1.
Sylva traditionally checks those boxes off quite well.
But that’s not to say getting to that end doesn’t involve tough decisions. As usual, those will be plentiful in the coming days.
State law dictates local governments have balanced budgets in place by July 1, the start of the fiscal year. The town’s budget schedule calls for a May 28 public hearing and a June 11 board vote.
Among the budget requests the town should examine carefully are proposals for beefing up the Sylva Police Department.
Chief Chris Hatton told town board members he’d like to add an officer (or two) to the current contingent of 13 full-time officers and a part-time clerk.
The department is down an officer at the moment and looking to add one more to fill the 14 positions it takes to serve the town.
He’d also like to see two new patrol vehicles, preferably all-wheel drive Dodge Durango SUVs, and an all-terrain vehicle that could be used in Pinnacle Park, the Blackrock Creek property and for events downtown. The town currently uses golf carts, which could be replaced by a sturdier and more versatile ATV.
At first glance 14 officers might seem to be a lot for a town the size of Sylva, but that’s only if you think they’re on the job 24/7, which of course they’re not.
Three patrol officers work nights and two work during the day. Hatton says that for a good part of the year, the force has been undermanned, down 30 percent to 20 percent in manpower.
That same year saw calls for service jump to 8,199, up from 7,516 the prior year. Felony arrests saw a spike in the same timeframe, going from 172 to 252.
Hatton said calls for service were up “across the board. Thank goodness it’s not major crime like a bigger city would have, but it’s 24 hours a day. We always go. If someone has a snake in their garage, even though we are not trained for that, we’ll go help you get it out of there.”
Traffic issues are also a major headache, with accidents up 20 percent year-over-year. In what isn’t exactly a newsflash to locals, a lot of that can be attributed to more cars than road; the traffic flow through the intersection of N.C. 107 and Asheville Highway is comparable to Tunnel Road in Asheville.
This brings us to a broader point: Sylva has been discovered, and the future will hold stories of our charms being shared with others, bringing still more visitors. Nightlife is increasing, traffic is increasing, the number of events downtown is on the rise, and Pinnacle Park is likely on the cusp of being a major draw.
That means more people are going to be in town. Which in turn means the need for more public safety.
Which in turn means Hatton’s budget requests need to be taken very, very seriously.