Staff photo by Joshua Curry
Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo addresses the public and the media during his annual State of the City Address at the Wilmington courthouse on Monday, Jan. 28.
In front of city staff, fellow politicians, and a locally televised audience, City of Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo delivered his annual State of the City Address at City Hall on Jan. 28.
The mayor began his speech by announcing a successfully balanced budget that earned a double A plus bond rating while still squirreling away $23 million in its savings account “for a rainy day, which in our case could be a hurricane,” Saffo said.
Saffo said the city’s goal for this year is to keep the current tax rates stable, without any increases, and that street maintenance will continue to be the No. 1 priority for the city heading into the new year. He emphasized that city council made a commitment and appropriated $41 million to fund a five-year improvement plan that paves streets and sidewalks, shores up the Cape Fear Riverwalk and repairs public facilities.
Regarding economic development, the mayor mostly pointed out the city’s success stories from 2012, citing, among other things:
— A $425 million economic impact from tourism.
— One hundred and thirteen convention center events with another 135 booked for 2013.
— Ongoing contract negotiations for the financing of a 186-room Embassy Suites hotel.
— Development of a private 200-slip convention center marina
— And establishment of the new urban zoning district making it easier for vacant properties to be redeveloped.
The mayor also said the city was developing a long-term comprehensive plan that will guide the city’s growth and development for the next 20 years.
With the exception of the speech’s completion, the loudest bout of applause from the audience came when the mayor announced that the Gary-Shell Cross City Trail was finally fully funded. Saffo followed an update on the trail’s status by announcing a comprehensive greenway plan throughout the city and county.
As for infrastructure, Saffo described $4 million in improvements to the city’s stormwater system designed to reduce flooding in neighborhoods along College Road, Eastwood Road and Oleander Drive. He said a project recently began on Cardinal Drive and another was set to begin at Inland Greens in the spring.
The city’s new Big Blue recycling program was also addressed, with the mayor stating that 65 percent of the city’s households now choose to recycle.
“This program has exceeded all of our expectations and continues to grow every week,” Saffo said.
Saffo praised the Wilmington Police Department for its efforts and announced that 2012 has set a new record low in violent crime for the city. He also commended the Wilmington and New Hanover County fire departments for their collaboration and providing “all of our citizens top quality fire protection.”
In his closing words, Mayor Saffo said it was the responsibility of the community to investigate potential opportunities in the future.
“This can be challenging, and at times controversial, but it must be done,” Saffo said.