Bill Saffo is running unopposed for a fourth term as mayor of Wilmington. A native of Wilmington, Saffo holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of North Carolina Wilmington and works as a Seacoast Realty real estate agent.
What do you think needs to be done to address the gang violence in Wilmington that isn’t already being done?
We do some work on the prevention side, but I say not enough. … It’s going to take a community effort. It’s going to take a lot of people working together [and] it’s going to take some money, obviously, to create the programs or be able to send them to some of these programs, because in a lot of cases these programs do exist, but a lot of these kids can’t afford to get to them. … When things calm down and get back to normal, and we have budget cuts and things get tight, usually those are the first programs, unfortunately, to be eliminated. So this is something we have to keep in the back of our minds, this is a long-term strategy and it pays dividends in 10, 12, 20 years. … I think the LINCS Program that Frankie Roberts runs needs additional funding; they try to reacclimate these people into society once they get out of jail. I think a pretty legitimate statistic that’s getting thrown around is the fact that most of these people when they have paid their price to society by being incarcerated, 60 percent of them are reincarcerated within 36 months.
How will you increase cooperation between the city and the county?
I think I have a good relationship with Chairman White. … We’ve had an opportunity to work not just on gangs with the Sheriff’s department but also on the economic development initiatives with Castle Branch and the nCino development with Live Oak Bank, working with the local film commission. … There are a lot of issues that we’re facing, budget cuts at the federal and state level … beach renourishment is going to be an issue, and I know the city delivers a lot of ROT tax because of the hotels that are in the city. We know the education in the city has been cut back on funding, and we’ve worked in a cooperative spirit in keeping the red light cameras open. We’ve not only produced $700,000 for the schools, but also it’s been a safety issue from my perspective as the mayor of the city because we have one of the highest crash rates in the state. Working on projects like Legion Stadium and the field there, and putting the field turf in so that we could get more play out of it. We’ve been able to do that on the 10-Year Plan To End Homelessness and the Blue Ribbon Commission, and we’re going to have to look for other programs out there that we can support jointly for having an impact with at-risk youth.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
[The Wilmington Convention Center] has paid dividends by bringing more and more events and connections to our community. … The land use plan that we were involved with in 2004, which was the first plan the city’s ever had in land use, the cross-city trail is something that I’m very proud of – I never thought in my wildest dreams that we could complete a 15-mile multi-use trail through our community and we did it in five years. Balancing the budget during some tough economic times and also being able to make some adjustments for [city employees’] pay … being able to get all the parks bond initiatives into the ground; Olsen Park and the upgrade to Empie Park. … I was part of a group working very hard with community leaders as well as our leg delegation and our governor to get the film incentive increased, which has been a boon for our community in tough economic times and has brought in a lot of business and a lot of attention for our community. … The completion of Third Street that I’ve gotten more comments about than anything I’ve ever been part of as mayor of the city. The street stabilization of Front Street is one I’m very proud of.
What don’t people know about you already?
When I was a younger guy I used to love to surf, and I’m taking it back up so they’ll probably see me out there on the water somewhere. I used to live on Wrightsville Beach and me and my buddies would go surfing every day, in the winter too, obviously, so that’s something that I love.