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Time for Ten with Somerset Selectman Allen Smith

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Time for Ten is a series where we ask past and current elected officials ten questions. This is the second in the series.

Unlike Fall River, the neighboring town of Somerset has a municipal election every year. The three-person board of selectmen rotate election cycles, with only one member up for reelection every three years. This coming year in April of 2024, incumbent Allen Smith’s seat is up for grabs and the one term Selectman has already announced he will be running for a second term. The selectman held his first fundraiser for his latest campaign last month and will be pulling nomination papers as soon as they become available after the first of the year.

I asked Allen about his first term in office, if he thinks Somerset will ever be at peace again and what his favorite meal is. Here are ten questions with Somerset Selectman Allen Smith.

You’ve already announced that you are running for re-election. How difficult of a decision was it for you to seek a second term?

This wasn’t a difficult decision. The residents of Somerset need an independent voice on the board. The residents need someone who is going to fight for them.

Becoming a selectman in Somerset back in 2021 was the first time you held public office. What has been the biggest surprise about being a public official?

I would say the biggest surprise has been how many wonderful people we have working for the town. Prior to being elected you have such limited interaction with town employees. Now that I work with so many of these people all the time it is refreshing to see the work ethic and dedication that these people have.

What were some goals you set for yourself in your first term and have you been able to achieve them?

One of my first goals was to establish a new Economic Development Committee. I felt it was critical to have a group in place that was working to support our existing businesses, so we were not losing existing businesses while we worked to bring in new businesses. I think we have put together a great Committee that has worked tirelessly to bring in great new community events that help drive customers to our existing businesses while at the same time welcoming new businesses to our town. They have also created a vision for responsible development within the town.

Creating community events was also a vision I had when I started. I moved to Somerset because of the great sense of community Somerset had back when I moved here in 1986. We have been lucky to lure SOAM back to Somerset since they are so community centered and help small businesses grow. Because of the partnership with SOAM Allison and Paul choose to host Foodchella events in town which have been so successful. We hosted our first Barbecue fest this year which was so well received. We added Winterfest a few years ago and are getting ready to do the 2023 version of Winterfest.

A big push for me during the campaign and since I was elected was building an effective team in town hall. Shortly after I was elected our Town Administrator resigned. I was able to reach out to the retired Town Administrator from North Attleboro to lead the team while we searched for the right long term Town Administrator. Mike did a great job building our budgeting platform and providing residents who attended town meeting with a budget presentation prior to being asked to vote on the budget. Mike brought the departments together and started to build the level of collaboration that is needed in town government.

We ultimately hired Mark Ullucci to be our new Town Administrator. Mark moved his family to Somerset after he accepted the job. It’s great to have a Town Administrator who lives in the town whose children go to our schools and understands first-hand the concerns our residents have throughout the community. Mark has elevated the level of expectation for town employees which has resulted in some turnover, but we have been able to build the kind of team that I envisioned when I took office. A great team starts with a great leader and Mark Ullucci is an amazing leader for the residents of Somerset.

What do you think are the top three issues that Somerset taxpayers are most concerned about?

Issue number one is their tax bill. We have seen the taxes grow in the years since the power plants have close and our new growth has not been able to make up for the loss in revenue from the two power plants. In the last three years residential rates have grown faster than commercial rates due to the hot housing market. Last year residential rates grew at 13.3% while commercial rates grew at 1%. This causes more of the tax burden to shift to the residential taxpayer. Last year I spent time with our tax assessor Pam Lee reviewing the last five years of assessed values and this year Pam took on a big piece of the burden of determining the assessed values of commercial businesses. This year residential rates went up 12% but commercial went up 9%. We were much closer than we have been in years to the growth in both assessed values.

The second biggest issue is water quality. Although the Board of Selectmen don’t oversee the water department this is still a big concern for residents. I had a joint meeting with the Water and Sewer Commissioners to give residents an opportunity to express their concerns and to hear from our Water Commissioners on their plans to resolve the problem. We have a lot of old pipes, and we need to spend significant money to replace those pipes. The BOS had already approved a request of the water department for one million dollars to replace a mile of water pipes. After hearing from our residents and hearing the challenges the water department was facing, I led the push to get an additional one million dollars of ARPA funds approved to replace another mile of old pipes.

Concerns about the development of Brayton Point is another issue for a lot of residents in town. There are two groups that have concerns. One group wants the tax revenue that our town needs to bring our average tax bill to a more palatable level. The other group wants the tax revenue as well but is also concerned about the impact major industrial businesses will have on our community. I knew residents had a lot of questions, so I used my own money to fly down and visit the Prysmian facility in Abbeysville SC. We all hate to waste our vacation time, but I knew it was important to see first-hand what order issues were being produced at the facility and what the noise levels were. Being a Selectmen takes a lot of work and sacrifice and I do it to support our residents.

It looks like Prysmian is finally coming to Somerset to manufacture cables to support the nationwide wind energy industry. Why do you think Prysmian will be a good fit for the town?

Whether it is a business or your next-door neighbor we all want someone we can talk to and work with. I don’t think anyone thinks I will never have a problem when a new neighbor moves in, but you hope the people are reasonable to work with. I think Prysmian has been reasonable to work with so far. They haven’t been able to address every concern the residents have expressed but they have made a significant effort to address those concerns. I am optimistic that thew Town will have a good relationship with the company, but I know that our Zoning Board wrote very well-crafted conditions that will provide a level of enforcement should they choose to violate those conditions.

The other great thing if Prysmian buys the land at Brayton POint is that we will start receiving significant new tax dollars. Year one would be $1.4 million and by year seven the amount would grow to almost 9 million dollars.

You had a hand in the hiring of the new town administrator, Mark Ullicci. According to the board, he has exceeded all your expectations. Why do you think Mark was such a good fit?

Mark is a great fit for the Town Administrator role because he is a strong leader with the education and depth of experience to lead our town in a positive direction. I was the lead Selectman working with the search company to find a new Town Administrator. We had two candidates out of 5 in the first interviews that we were interested in hiring. One chose to stay where he was after being offered more money to stay. The second wants significantly more money that we were offering. The next round of interviews there was one candidate who stood out from the others, so we chose to interview just him. After the interview he withdrew. I went to the search firm and asked where do we go now. They explained that after interviewing people in town hall as well as people in the community that we needed a strong leader. They told me that they had someone with great leadership ability having served as a deputy chief of police. He also said this candidate knew me. When they told me it was Mark Ullucci I had worked with Mark when he was 18 years old, and I was the General Manager of Rhode Island Mall. Mark was an outstanding person even as an 18-year-old, but I wasn’t sure his background would be the right fit. Mark and I spoke for about 2 hours, and I was very impressed with all he had accomplished in the 25 years since we had first worked together. I told Mark I would try to get him on the interview list but that the decision was that of the Board not me. During the interview process I let the other Board members know that I knew Mark and when it came time to deliberate on who to hire, I opened it up to the other Board members. Jack was the first one to say he liked Mark the best, so I then said I liked Mark the best Lorne liked one of the other gentlemen the best and we deliberated until all three of us agreed to offer the position to Mark.

Mark had a challenging first year dealing with the drainage issue on Valley Road, the Prysmian development, The Southcoast Wind project and number of serious human resource issues in town. We are lucky that Mark doesn’t back down from a challenge and has led us through it all with professionalism and his unyielding work ethic.

Somerset continues to struggle with some division within the community, primarily surrounding Brayton Point and the health of residents who live in that part of town. What’s it going to take for Somerset to come together and be at peace again?

I think we have made considerable progress as it relates to division in town. We have people who were so opposed a few years ago now working together on the same boards, attending the same events and talking about the issues they see in town. A big part of the problem in the past was having a Town Administrator and Board of Selectmen who would not listen to the residents’ concerns. I have told Mark he is oftentimes too accessible to every resident phone call or stop in, but Mark believes in working with the residents to address their concerns. As a Board I think we take the time to listen and work to address the concerns the residents have. We can’t always give the answer they want but we listen and try to make a difference.
Having a divide in a community is not unique to Somerset. I have lived here for 36 years and there have always been hot button issues that have caused a divide in the town. We just need to keep talking about the issues and try to listen to each other’s concerns.

You are often the odd man out on your three-person board, with Souza and Vaught often aligning on decisions. How hard is it to hold your ground on issues and does it get frustrating knowing your vote doesn’t always matter in meetings?

I laughed a little when I read this. It is never hard to hold my ground and fight to support the residents of Somerset. I was elected to support the residents of our town and that is what I will do. I do my research and bring facts and figures to the discussion to support my position. It’s a little frustrating but at the same time gratifying when the response back is statements that are based on feelings rather than fact. The new Town Planner position was a perfect example. I had a list of reasons why we should wait till the fiscal 25 budget to see if we could afford the position and the argument in response was, “the position will pay for itself”. I asked the other selectmen to prove that statement and there were no facts presented. I don’t really get frustrated; I just continue to support my position. At times I know I will lose but I will never go down without a fight.

When Jamison Souza was at his first Board meeting, he said he was glad I was still there because he had been told that I would quit at his first meeting. I will never quit on the residents of Somerset. They went to the polls and cast their vote for me. I will be there doing the job they elected me to do.

If you are re-elected to a second term, what do you wish to accomplish during the next three years as Selectman?

One of the things I will continue to work on is improving our budgeting. We don’t have the level of detail in our budgeting to ensure we are budgeting for the needs of the town without over budgeting. We need all departments to supply a level of detail so residents can make an informed decision when voting to approve the budget. We also must limit the growth in free cash. We started on that this fiscal year but we still have room to go. Through proper budgeting we will limit the free cash at the end of the year and better assess the taxes based on our needs.

Capital planning is something we need to continue to refine. We started building ten-year capital plans a couple of years ago and they have continued to get more detailed, but we are still working to layer in all town departments to we can create a level financial impact each year and avoid spikes in any year which would drive up taxes.

Continue to improve the efficiency in our town government so we make it easier for our residents to work with town departments. We have been working on the new website which is a first step in making our government more efficient. In the next couple of years, we have a number of things to roll out.

You’re going out to eat at your favorite restaurant to eat your favorite meal. What is the restaurant and what are you ordering?

Finally, an easy question. Circe Restaurant in Providence. Their meatloaf is my choice every time. It is so good.

Primary correspondent for the Greater Fall River area, Jess focuses on human interest stories and investigations into political corruption. She is a former fill-in host and digital contributor at The Howie Carr Show, former host of The Jessica Machado Show and SouthCoast Tonight on WBSM in New Bedford, former blogger at The Herald News and a former fill-in host at WSAR in Fall River.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Tom McDonald

    December 28, 2023 at 10:06 am

    One would think if this guy was so coincerned about Somerset he would pick a restaurant in Somerset instead of advertising one in Providence!

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