LELAND — Mayor Brenda Bozeman is seeking a fourth term as mayor on Leland Town Council.
Bozeman is Leland’s first female mayor and has served on Town Council since 2003. If elected, Bozeman will serve a four-year mayoral term. The Town increased its mayoral term limit from two to four years in 2018, with Mayor Bozeman recused from the vote.
Author’s note: Port City Daily’s candidate interviews are largely unedited. Edits have only been made to correct spelling or grammatical errors. Candidates were not given word or character limits to answer each question.
What is your campaign platform?
I plan to spend the next four years on a number of initiatives. These include aggressively pursuing infrastructure planning and needs; supporting a sensible solution to managing the area’s water and sewer utility; ensuring Leland maintains its reputation as a leader among state municipalities for financial strength; planning for “resiliency” for natural disasters, taking a hard look at building codes, flooding mitigation and enhancements for first responders; working in partnership to negotiate future transportation solutions while protecting individual property rights; incentivizing positive economic development projects; maintaining our record of low tax rates in comparison to other towns of similar size in NC; and leading our public safety to be among the best in the State.
What makes you qualified to serve on Town Council?
A long-time resident of Leland and having served for 16 years on various board and committees on Town Council, including as mayor for the last 8, I feel I am the best qualified to continue as Mayor moving the town forward in a way that will maintain our values and our southern town charm. I want to make our residents proud and confident they live in a great city.
Many residents of “old” Leland often air concerns about feeling left behind or left out. Do you feel “old” Leland has adequate elected representation? Why or why not?
The word “old” is out for me. I like to say “traditional.” Sometimes, people forget — I am “traditional” Leland. Every decision made is on behalf of and for the benefit of the entire town. I am focused on creating a downtown Leland that embodies the feel and flavor of traditional southern charm. The majority of major improvements and beautification efforts undertaken by the town have been in the “traditional” gateway area of Village Rd. Leland. I have worked with the Brunswick Senior Resources, Inc. to influence and encourage the placement of a new senior citizen facility conveniently located and now enjoyed by a great number of our “traditional” seniors. Sidewalks have been installed with more on the way, Northgate Drive has been realigned and more retail is being drawn to “traditional” Leland. The town’s municipal campus, also located in “traditional” Leland is a source of pride for our citizens and hosts many community events. We are always trying to find ways to encourage the participation of “traditional” Leland residents, seeking their interest in serving on our many boards and committees, or simply volunteering with our many local civic organizations. Given all of our activities in “traditional” Leland, and we aren’t finished yet, I honestly feel all our areas enjoy equal representation.
What makes Leland, Leland? What defining places, characteristics, or ideas make up the town’s identity?
The people make Leland. People from “traditional” Leland, people from “contemporary” Leland. We fortunately have people, with various backgrounds and levels of expertise, who are generous with their time, volunteering with all our local organizations. We have numerous examples of everyday people who go the extra mile to help someone in need and give them a hand up. It’s a town of all age groups; the younger generation is growing thanks to our affordable housing and lowest tax rate in the area. The award-winning Leland Cultural Arts Center is fast becoming well known throughout not just the area, but the state! It provides a number of arts, music, dance and environment opportunities. Our Parks and Recreation department has an impressive calendar of events every month. Westgate Nature Park is an absolute treasure, and planning for other parks and amenities are on schedule including a state-of-the-art municipal park opposite town hall and — the diamond-in-the-rough right now — Sturgeon Creek Park. Our annual Founders Day, at which we just bestowed honor to many “traditional” Leland organizers, is attended by thousands from all over, bringing customers to our hotels, restaurants, and shops. Leland is attracting new residents because of all it has to offer. Why else does everyone seem to want to move here?
Do you see Leland as a bedroom community for Wilmington? Should the town take steps to further its own economic and cultural independence as a community or aim to complement existing industry in Wilmington?
We see ourselves as a “partner” community to our neighbors across the river, and we are coming into our own as development and historical growth rates continue to climb.
Leland is ahead of the game when it comes to establishing economic and cultural independence. A Strategic Plan to establish a disciplined and organized approach to economic development in the Town has been created by our Economic Development Committee. The LEDC began developing the Strategic Plan in November of 2018 and held numerous workshops with five as special public meetings. As a result, we are focusing on four areas of strategic vision: travel and tourism, agriculture support services, retirement community, and high-tech manufacturing. We are partnering with the owners of the Leland Industrial Park to transform the site into the Innovation Park at Leland. Upgrades to amenities with an emphasis on curb appeal is one of the goals of this endeavor. Recently we announced that a large portion of our northern area of the town limits falls in a federally-designated Opportunity Zone. These zones were established to provide investors with capital gains deferral and elimination options. Because 2019 is the year to maximize capital gains relief under this program, our Economic Development Director is working with investors to take advantage of the program. With respect to our friends across the river, our goal is to work together in partnership.
Indeed, our residents look forward to an outing in Wilmington whether to take in a show at the Wilson Center, a game at Legion Stadium, or a shopping trip. And, our Cultural Arts Center is being enjoyed by many Wilmingtonians who are taking part in our various programs and events. We see our relationship with Wilmington and New Hanover Counties as complementing strengths and growth. By working together, the region will continue to thrive.
The town has obligated itself in agreements with developers to pay over $1 million in incentives so far in 2019. That obligation could soon climb to a maximum of $4,497,750. Leland is using System Development Fees to essentially reimburse developers for fees they pay into the town. What are your thoughts on this pattern of incentives for private projects?
The framing of this question is misleading and mischaracterizes the “incentive” investment strategy used by many municipalities across the country. One recent local comparison is the incentives package being offered by the Town of Shallotte. I must strongly emphasize that no taxpayer funds are used in this program. The return on this incentive investment strategy in terms of future tax and sales revenue gains is of such significance in maintaining a healthy economic outlook, we would be failing to represent our residents’ interests in the investment they have made by choosing to live here if we did not. This is an example of forward-thinking.
What’s your honest take on the utility drama that has lingered over the region for years? Is it fair that taxpayers have, to some degree, helped foot the bill for the multi-million dollar H2GO lawsuit?
Let’s set the record straight with regard to legal fees expended as a result of the lawsuit with Belville in which Leland and H2GO prevailed. Leland’s taxpayers will be fully reimbursed for these fees. The facts regarding the utility debacle are these: Leland aggressively initiated legal action to protect and retain the utility interests of Leland’s customers from an illegal transfer to Belville; Leland’s residents make up more than 70% of H2GO’s customer base; Leland made the difficult decision to capitulate on the contentious and highly debatable demand for the construction of an aquifer based RO plant among several concessions in a proposed settlement agreement with all parties; Leland believes the settlement agreement’s proposals to be in the best interest for the town and its continued successful growth; Leland fully expects the settlement agreement, if signed, will provide a catalyst for best service and rates, with water and sewer for all citizens in a modified regional solution encompassing Leland, H2GO, Belville, and possibly Navassa; Brunswick County declined to participate in a proposal to create a county regional approach to water and sewer. The building of another RO plant, albeit sourced from aquifers rather than the Cape Fear River, must be part of this solution in order to satisfy all parties. Leland has stepped up to the plate and made some tough decisions, but we are confident if the agreement is approved by all parties, it will be a win-win for all our citizens. We need a stabilized water and sewer utility, and we need to restore ethics, honesty and integrity in the management of our water and sewer service.
What is one action/vote Leland got wrong in 2017-2019?
In my view, I do not believe there was a wrong action or vote in the period. Actions as a result of votes taken may have needed reassessments subsequent to approval, but that is normal for any municipality. Sometimes outside influences override what council wants to do. Are we happy about it? Of course not. You tackle each challenge, and if you don’t get ti right the first time, you work to change the outcome until it is right. If you don’t, you aren’t doing your job. Ultimately, we do what we feel is in the best interests to serve the greater good for the town.
What is one action/vote Leland got right in 2017-2019?
Leland got more than one action/vote right in the last two years. However, I would like to highlight the absorption of the Leland Fire and Rescue Department into the town. This was a monumental undertaking, but we couldn’t be happier with the outcome. We took a vital service that was suffering from financial difficulties and brought them into the town thus enhancing their abilities to continue to provide great response to our residents.
Anything else you’d like to share with voters?
Experience matters. With Leland’s rapid growth and with the great strides we have made, I believe I have the passion to do a good job, I am principles and believe in honesty and integrity, and I am certainly a proven candidate for the job.