NORRIDGEWOCK — Town government has been a passion of Richard LaBelle’s since he was a child growing up in nearby Rome and attending annual Town Meetings with his father.

LaBelle, a 2004 graduate of Messalonskee High School in Oakland, laughed Friday when remembering his interest in government from an early age.

“I’ve always been involved in town government,” said LaBelle, 29, who started as a new town manager in Norridgewock last week. “It was one of those peculiar things (going to town meetings), but it was a family event, and it was intriguing to see what can be done at the local level and the impact that can be had.”

After high school LaBelle graduated from Bryant University in Rhode Island, where he studied international business management. He went on to work for Nabisco, the cookie and snack manufacturer, as a regional sales manager throughout New England, Pennsylvania and New York before moving back to Maine in 2013. He is working on getting a master’s degree in public administration at Southern New Hampshire University.

“I wanted to come back home,” LaBelle said. “I was doing a lot of moving and traveling, and I wanted to come back home and settle down.”

Since his return, LaBelle has been active in town government in Rome. He is the town’s second selectman and is running for re-election next month.

He took over as Norridgewock town manager last Monday, replacing Michelle Flewelling, and will earn an annual salary of $43,500 plus benefits. Flewelling, who served as town manager for seven years, was earning $58,600 including benefits at the time of her departure.

Ron Frederick, chairman of the Norridgewock Board of Selectmen, said LaBelle was one of about 25 applicants for the job and that the board voted unanimously to hire him.

“I want to thank people for their patience,” Frederick said. “I know it’s been a long process, and we’re glad to have someone there to do the job.”

“He seemed personable and eager to talk with people and to take on the job,” said Selectwoman Sallie Wilder. “He also had experience with town government before, which is nice.”

Though LaBelle has never worked as a town manager before, Wilder pointed out that he has performed many of the jobs of a town manager in his role as a Rome selectman.

“They don’t have a town manager in Rome, so the selectmen do all the work,” she said. “It’s a lot more work than the Norridgewock selectmen do.”

LaBelle said his first priority as a town manager is to familiarize himself with the community, though one of his long-term goals is to revitalize Norridgewock’s downtown.

“One of the biggest things right now is the indecision with (the former Norridgewock fire station) and whether it could be a community center, could be converted into retail or what not,” he said. “As a new town manager, I’m here with no predisposition as to what should be going on, and we welcome public input as to how to best utilize that building.”

Another challenge that the town faces is a lack of adequate funds to run the sewer department and an aging wastewater treatment facility.

LaBelle, who will also serve as the town sewer administrator, said that while he has no experience overseeing a municipal sewer department, he has already toured the wastewater treatment plant and is ready to start working with the town’s sewer commissions on improving it.

“I’m looking forward to working with them to help solve the problems at the wastewater treatment facility,” he said. “There’s a lot of infrastructure problems that need to be addressed, and in the next week we’re going to be looking at taking a next major step in doing that.”

LaBelle said he welcomes residents to drop in and visit him at the Town Office.

“I think that Norridgewock is kind of the big small town,” he said. “There’s a diverse group of people, but you still have that small town feel. The people here really love their town, and they want to preserve the history and the local control. I think that’s exciting in a day and age when a lot of folks want to move away from that.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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