Urgo aims for communication and lightened tax burden in North Stonington
North Stonington — When Mike Urgo moved to North Stonington seven years ago, he had never been involved much in local government. But Urgo, a native of Hopkinton, R.I., quickly dove in, curious why the town was struggling to pass a budget.
Now what started with involvement in a grass-roots group, Informed Citizens of North Stonington, and eventually a role on the finance board has led to Urgo becoming first selectman during a precarious time for the rural community.
Urgo, 40, assumed office earlier this week, taking the reins of one of the town's most significant leadership roles as state aid continues to get slashed and several crucial municipal projects enter their next phases, including the school modernization project and construction of the Center for Emergency Services building.
This past election also saw the departure of several fixtures of the town's local government. All three selectmen elected not to run for another term, including Nicholas Mullane II, who ran Town Hall for nearly three decades.
"You certainly can't replace the knowledge that's there with Nick having been here for 28 years," Urgo said. "I'm not going to have all that. But what I do have is a lot of talented people around me and a lot of experience that they didn't have probably."
Urgo, who's married with two children, has worked in a variety of fields throughout his career, including finance, nonprofits and consulting, and currently is an insurance agent selling Farmers Insurance out of his Urgo Agency. He feels that his diverse background helps him see things from many perspectives and will help him confront some of the challenges North Stonington faces.
"We need to help as best we can to ease the tax burden," Urgo said. "That's the first challenge, but I think the opportunity is we've done a lot of things to ease our zoning regulations and encourage people to take in the great things going on here in North Stonington."
Be it through increased commercial development or adding additional housing, Urgo said he sees an opportunity to draw more people to North Stonington, something he cites as one of his goals as first selectman. Commercial development in particular could carry a tax benefit for residents, although Urgo stressed that development needs to align with the town's Plan of Conservation and Development.
"We're not looking to sacrifice the character of our town by any means, but we have the Plan of Conservation and Development that guides us, so it's not like we have to reinvent the wheel," he said.
Weekly video updates
Urgo also highlighted increasing the town's efficiency to better cope with the uncertainty regarding state aid, as well as increased communication with citizens among his top goals as first selectman.
Better communication was a calling card of Urgo during his campaign and is something he has immediately pushed since coming to office. Every other week Urgo plans to release a two-minute video updating people on what's going on with their local government. From meetings that happened to what's in the works with planning and zoning or anything else on the horizon, the hope is that residents will be better informed and more encouraged to get involved.
To watch the videos, visit bit.ly/NSSvideos.
His first video, released last week, focused on the upcoming budget referendum happening Monday, Nov. 27. On that day, residents will determine the fate of the proposed budget for next year, which Urgo supports.
Although he'll have to wait until Monday to find out the results, Urgo already has received some encouraging signs during his short tenure.
Earlier this month the Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to change the zoning along the western end of Route 2 from residential to resort commercial district. Urgo said the vote sends a strong message that the town is ready for the right businesses to come and be a part of the community.
Additionally, on Monday the town received confirmation from the state that state aid for the school modernization project still will come through.
Still, the duties of the selectman's office are certainly a quick turn for a man who had no intention of running earlier this year.
Back in June, when Urgo opened his own insurance company, he was involved with the Board of Finance and the School Modernization Building Committee, but he hadn't considered running for office. However, when former First Selectman Shawn Murphy announced he was not going to run and no candidates stepped forward, Urgo felt called to serve.
He chose to run unaffiliated because he loathes party politics and, frankly, he didn't think it should matter.
"I've worked on different boards and commissions with people and I couldn't even tell you what their parties are," Urgo said. "That's small-town government. It doesn't matter."
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