Town Council candidates, Part Two
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND -- In the second installment of our series on the candidates for Town Council, we spoke with Republicans Jeffrey Vaillancourt, Helen Sheehan, and Raymond Pouliot, and Unaffiliated candidates, Mark Reynolds, Nicholas Solitro and Daniel Madnick. Democrat, Lauren Cacciola, did not respond to a request for comment.
Altogether, there are 13 candidates running for council. Please see Part 1 of our “meet the candidates” story for information on incumbents, James Palmisciano, Richard Nassaney, and Ronald Newman, and challengers Mark Trimmer, Michael Colasante and Samantha Wilcox.
Without exception, the candidates have described property taxes as Richmond’s most critical issue. Many also said they were hoping that a balance could be found between preserving the town’s rural character and encouraging economic development in order to broaden the tax base.
Some candidates also expressed concerns about the town’s contribution to the Chariho Regional School District, which represents more than 70 percent of the budget.
Republican candidate, Jeffrey Vaillancourt, has been on the Zoning Board of Review for five years and currently serves as its Vice Chair.
Vaillancourt, an electrician, is owner of the Wyoming-based Amity Electric. He has lived in the town for 15 years, and this is the first time he has run for public office.
“I’m a member of the Zoning Board for a number of years, and I enjoy the interaction with all the different community members and people who like to get involved in the activities of the town,” he said. “I thought it was a natural progression of involvement.”
Vaillancourt said he agreed that property taxes were a concern, but he added that he did not have a magic bullet that would alleviate the burden on homeowners.
“Is there anything I can do about that? I don’t know,” he said. “Alone, I can’t, but as a team, maybe. Being part of that team makes a difference.”
Asked about other issues in the town, Vaillancourt said that if elected, he would address residents’ concerns but for now, he could not pretend to have all the answers.
“I’m not into it yet, so it’s really hard to say ‘oh I think this or that’ when I don’t know the full story about it,” he said. “You only see one side, or a small view of it and it could be the wrong view. That’s why I think being involved is great. At the Zoning Board, I got to hear this party’s side and that party’s side and what’s actually on paper, and how it affects everything.”
Helen Sheehan, a political newcomer, said she was keeping her focus on the town’s financial bottom line. A psychotherapist and former business owner, Sheehan has lived in Richmond for six years.
“I am concerned about…retaining the lifestyle that we have here,” she said. “I’m a little concerned that taxes, they’re too high, for one thing. If you look at other towns around us, our taxes are higher than most of the communities, so we need to find ways to make those level, or lower.”
Sheehan said she felt that she needed to become more involved in the town’s business.
“I just decided that I should not be complaining and do nothing. I needed to step in and try to influence what we’re doing,” she said.
Sheehan also wants to look at Chariho Regional School District funding. She is also concerned about how the town will allocate the $2.3 million it is receiving under the American Rescue Plan Act.
“There are some proposals that make me a little nervous, that they are going to create expenses that will continue after ARPA ends,” she said. “Everybody has good intentions, as far as I can see, but I’m not sure what the outcome will be.”
Sheehan added that she is not sure how the proposed community and wellness center will impact the town’s budget once the ARPA funds have been spent.
“I’ve heard that it’ll be a senior center and a wellness center. I’ve heard that it will be a covered pavilion. I heard that …it’s only a place-holder. There’s no plan made. But the land is cleared, so it looks to me as if somebody has a plan,” she said.
Raymond Pouliot, the former New London Postmaster, grew up in the country, in Burrillville, and now that he lives in Richmond, describes himself as a homesteader.
“I have a small farm, me and my wife,” he said. “We have chickens and goats. We have a cow who just gave birth to a calf, so we’re starting to make cheese.”
Pouliot said he had three reasons for running for council,
“Taxes, taxes, taxes,” he said.
With some members of the council having served for several terms, Pouliot said he felt it was time for a change.
“We have people on the council now that have been there eight years, 12 years, and they all promised to be watchdogs for the taxpayer and for us, our property taxes have gone up considerably, over 30 percent, in the last eight to ten years, during that period where we’re supposed to have watchdogs there,” he said.
The town, Pouliot noted, needed more businesses.
“Bring businesses in, responsibly,” he said. “We want to maintain the character of the town, rural and agricultural.”
Attorney Mark Reynolds has been a Richmond resident for more than 20 years. In addition to serving as Town Moderator, he chairs the town’s Board of Tax Assessment and Review, and is a member of the Charter Review Commission.
“Watching things over the past year, I think the council needs people who are independent and willing to listen to others and try to come up with solutions to problems,” he said. “I wasn’t sure that people had that option – someone who was not associated with either party, who would listen to others’ views and make decisions based upon the best interests of the town.”
In addition to reducing the property tax burden and expanding the tax base by encouraging responsible commercial development, Reynolds said the town should make an effort to address the issues of mental health and addiction.
“How can we build that capacity?” he said. “As a town we can’t necessarily provide those services to individuals, but at least if we have a coordinated way, a central clearing house, to refer people to different agencies or entities that could help them and try to identify people who are in need.”
One of the roles of municipal government, Reynolds said, is to help solve residents’ problems.
“I’m sure there will be issues that come up that may be specific to a particular individual or a group of individuals, to try to find solutions to those problems,” he said. “Globally, it’s trying to meet the needs of the residents and try and keep the taxes affordable so that people can continue to live in town.”
Also running as an Independent is attorney, Nicholas Solitro, who moved his family from Warwick to Richmond seven years ago.
The current Chair of the Zoning Board of Review, Solitro has served on the board for about five years.
“I look at my tax bill and I see where it goes,” he said. “The vast majority is municipal services and the school district. If we have a top tier school district and depending on what metrics you look at, we’re up there, but for what we pay, it’s certainly considerable.”
Solitro does not believe it is necessary to sacrifice Richmond’s rural character to attract businesses and lower property taxes.
“I think you can have both,” he said. “The taxes we pay are a massive burden on families and you see the bills coming in every year and for many people, [it’s] a massive chunk of the income they bring in and it’s suffocating. There needs to be a plan in place to deal with those high taxes.”
As an attorney, and as Chair of the Zoning Board, Solitro said he had the knowledge and experience to encourage businesses to locate to Richmond.
“For a living, I deal with cities and towns, whether I’m advocating on their behalf or advocating for a client who needs something from a city or town,” he said. “My approach as Chair of the Zoning Board has always been ‘How can I help? What do you need? What can we do to help you?’ That is what I intend to bring to the Town Council.”
Planning Board member Daniel Madnick, a Richmond resident for the past six years, is a structural engineering supervisor at Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut.
Madnick has already compiled a list of goals that, if elected to the council, he will work to achieve.
“I want more public input and discussions,” he said. “I want people more involved. I think we need to inform the public on the purpose of various boards and commissions along with the Town Council.”
The town’s most pressing issues, Madnick said, include land use, rising taxes, and a lack of local healthcare resources. The enforcement of municipal regulations is also a problem.
“There’s Wood River Health, which is fairly close by, there are some additional social and mental health organizations in the region, which is documented in our comp plan, and one of the things that don’t really consider is enforcement of regulations in town building,” he said. “We have all these ordinances regulations on the books and we legislate them, the Planning Board makes decisions on them, but we don’t have a mechanism in the town to enforce it, and that’s something I’ve talked a lot about with town staff.”
Improving efficiency and a greater appreciation of town staff are also on Madnick’s list. So is expanding the hours of the transfer station.
“I would like to designate one or two days out of the week where the transfer station is open late for residents that cannot make it before 4 p.m.,” he said. “A lot of people complain about it that I talk to.”
Another goal is to work with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to review the Route 138 corridor from Interstate 95 to Route 3 in Wyoming.
“It’s safety issue,” he said. “We need to improve vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian safety in that area, and one of the things we can do is apply for federal government grants.”
Partisanship, Madnick said, should not be a factor on the council.
“I don’t agree with the party system as it is,” he said. “I also don’t feel that, at the Town Council, party affiliation should matter. It should be non-partisan, because at this level, we’re all trying to work in the best interest of the town, and getting caught up in national politics, which we have very little influence in, doesn’t help us here.”
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