Staff photo by Cole Dittmer
Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo addresses the crowd gathered at Wilmington City Hall for his State of the City address on Monday, Jan. 27.
With the city’s economy rebounding, the completion of the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail and the installation of a $41 million infrastructure improvement plan, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said this year’s State of the City address was a more positive one than the one he delivered in 2013.
“I think it is more positive because of the fact that the economy is dramatically improving and we are starting to see a lot more development in the private sector,” Saffo said after his address on Monday, Jan. 27. “I think I wanted to make sure the citizens know that we made some strategic decisions in tough economic times when some people were holding the lines.”
On the development of business in Wilmington, Saffo mentioned the investments that companies like nCino and Castle Branch are making in the market as highlights of economic progress. However, Saffo also mentioned the uncertain future of the state of North Carolina’s film incentive program as something that could hamper the economic vitality of the region despite television shows like “Sleepy Hollow,” “Under the Dome,” “Secrets and Lies,” and “How and Why” filming in Wilmington in 2014.
“The big issue for us going forward in the entire community is the film issue because that is a big industry for our community and employs 2,000 people and brings in $130-$150 million locally,” Saffo said.
As for Wilmington’s crime rate, Saffo said the overall number of crimes dropped 12 percent throughout the last quarter of 2013. The series of community gang violence discussions led by Wilmington City Manager Sterling Cheatham was another positive note.
“It is something that I have seen a lot of people come forward concerned about and I really think that people are getting the fact that we need to put more money in the prevention side than the repression side,” Saffo said. “We are putting $21 million just into the police but we have to do more prevention to keep these kids from dropping out because once they have dropped out with no hope and no education, they can go to a life of crime real quick.”
Saffo said the meeting outcomes would amount to more than a series of discussions, there would be some real results as well.
“We will see some specific recommendations that will come forward,” he said.
Targeting schools and education, afterschool programs and summer programs, Saffo said the goal was engaging more with kids in the socioeconomic distressed areas that spawn some of the problems.
Saffo said he usually begins working on his annual State of the City address a few months beforehand and views it as the city’s report card.
“I think about it starting probably around October, just looking at all the things we as a council have set forth as a goal,” he said. “We tell you what we are going to do, we put it out there on the Internet, you see us in our meetings, and this is what we have done and this is what we haven’t accomplished.”