It appears Dillsboro has launched an official study into the pros and cons of merging with neighboring Sylva, although the planning board chairwoman leading the process was unwilling to release many details.
Dillsboro Planning Board Chairwoman Teresa Dowd asserted that the merger is not a priority at this time.
“It’s a back-burner issue,” Dowd told The Smoky Mountain News. “Nothing’s going to happen. If something happens, I’ll call you.”
Dowd offered little comment on what the Planning Board has done so far to study the issue. She said the Planning Board is gathering demographic data, such as the budgets and populations of the towns, to see if merging is a good idea.
She would not elaborate further on what data had been collected and charged The Smoky Mountain News to do its own research.
However, Dowd did say that the Dillsboro Planning Board may take a field trip during its next regularly scheduled meeting Jan. 21 to Hazelwood, a district of Waynesville. Hazelwood used to be its own town but merged with Waynesville in 1991, providing an example the Planning Board could study.
Planning Board member Beauford Riddle said making Dillsboro part of Sylva is just in the discussion phase.
“At this point in time we’re seeing if it would be feasible,” said Riddle.
If Dillsboro became part of Sylva, Dillsboro could receive police protection and trash pick up from Sylva. In exchange, Sylva’s tax base would increase.
Dillsboro Alderman John Faulk said he has not made up his mind on the possible merger, noting that the issue is being studied by the planning board, and he is waiting to see what it comes back with.
He realizes that many are opposed to the idea, but Faulk said he is going to keep an open mind until he has all the information.
“Tell us the pros and cons,” Faulk said. “It’s very early in the game.”
Dillsboro Alderman Mike Fitzgerald said he would oppose such a merger.
If and when Dillsboro moves forward with the idea, it would be broached with the town leaders of Sylva. But Sylva Town Commissioner Sarah Graham said the merger is far from being in her board’s hands.
“I have no comment on it until they (Dillsboro) bring it to us as a possibility,” Graham said.
For a merger to happen, the town boards of both Sylva and Dillsboro must approve it. The process would include public hearings.
However, a townwide vote allowing residents to decide the issue isn’t necessarily required, according to David Lawrence at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Institute of Government.
Lawrence said a referendum would be necessary if Dillsboro had a lot of debt, and Sylva voters could decide if they wanted to take on that debt.
The state Legislature must finalize any merger.