RICHFORD – Michael Olio never imagined he would have a job in local government.
Growing up in Richford, Olio said he “didn’t really hear what was going on” at town hall. But after spending two years at home during the pandemic while completing college online, Olio discovered a new interest in the inner workings of his Franklin County town.
Just months after graduating from Champlain College, where he majored in business administration, the 22-year-old was hired as Richford’s first city administrator.
Richford officials said they hope Olio’s position, which reports to the selection committee, will make their government more accessible to local residents.
“It’s huge for me to let everyone know what’s going on,” Olio said in an interview on Tuesday.
Olio, who started in May, is one of three full-time city employees, along with the clerk and an assistant. Her position is supported by a $40,000 grant.
During his final semester of college last fall, Olio worked part-time for the Richford city government, managing local economic development initiatives. He also worked at Blue Seal Feeds in Richford and Franklin Foods in nearby Enosburg Falls.
Levi Irish, who previously held the economic development role, said she thought hiring Olio, even at a relatively young age, was “a no-brainer”.
“He has a family who are incredibly involved in our community, and have been for a long time,” Irish said. “So he has some of those connections and an understanding of how things work.”
The city, located along the border with Canada, has about 2,600 inhabitants. Her high school came to national attention last summer as the alma mater of Elle Purrier St. Pierre, who competed in the women’s 1,500-meter race at the Tokyo Olympics.
Richford has long struggled with above-average poverty rates, below-average incomes, lower housing values, and lower education levels, among other indicators. About 13% of residents live below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census, and the median household income is about $48,000, or about three-quarters of what it is nationwide. State.
Olio said he thinks many Richford residents have big ideas about how to improve social outcomes in the city. He wants to channel these ideas into clear and precise objectives.
One of the first projects he worked on, in conjunction with the North West Regional Planning Commission, was to create a plan to improve the city’s streetscape.
Emily Klofft, regional planner for the St. Albans-based organization, said Richford has sidewalks connecting much of its state-designated village center, but many of them are in poor condition and unresponsive. not up to modern accessibility standards.
Creating a bigger buffer between the roadway and the sidewalk, especially on Main Street, could make the Village Center feel “more like a destination where you want to walk,” Klofft said, and would also improve pedestrian safety.
Olio is also working with the Winooski-based nonprofit Efficiency Vermont on plans to make certain buildings in Richford — such as the town hall, fire station and library — more environmentally friendly. At the town hall, he said, officials have replaced existing lights with LEDs and want to insulate the building to reduce heating costs.
Another problem is that much of the city’s housing stock, and especially its rental units, is old and in poor condition, according to Olio and Irish.
Forty-nine percent of housing in the city is occupied by tenants, according to Irish, more than 1.5 times the statewide rate.
Olio plans to regularly send information to landlords about grant and loan programs they could use to improve their homes. The city had no one to lead this type of outreach before he took over as city administrator, he said.
Overall, Olio hopes the improvements to Richford’s streets and buildings will make the town more attractive for new development. Several local residents told VTDigger last fall that they would like to see more businesses in town — a hardware store, for example — and more things to do.
Olio cited Vermont Natural Forest Products, a company that began operations in January in a building that has been vacant for nearly a year, as a recent success.
The company was started by local residents and produces mulch, wood chips and wood pellets. It focuses on using locally harvested wood and selling its products to local customers, said Josh Gervais, one of the company’s founders.
“A big thing we’re going through right now is these fuel prices, so hauling trucking equipment further than necessary just doesn’t work anymore.” said Gervais. added that the company is also working with Efficiency Vermont to research ways to reduce its environmental impact.
Gervais and his co-founder, Matt Gregoire, graduated from the Cold Hollow Career Center in Enosburg Falls. Irish, who coordinates co-ops at Cold Hollow, said she wanted to use the forest products company’s facilities to help teach current and future students.
Although Richford has a rich manufacturing history, Olio said, one of his goals is for the town to strengthen its outdoor recreation economy. Richford is the northern terminus of the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail, an outdoor multi-use trail that runs through Franklin County.
Irish also said the town is well placed, about half an hour’s drive from Jay Peak Resort, to offer outdoor winter activities such as sledding and tubing.
Asked about the government’s management at 22, Olio said he thought he would bring new energy to the town hall that would help him see projects through to completion.
And is he the youngest municipal administrator in Vermont today?
“I would bet on that,” Olio said with a laugh.
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