Houlton’s new town manager from New Mexico explains why he took the job in Maine

2 weeks ago

HOULTON, Maine – Houlton is exactly what Jeremy Smith and his wife Laural Hardin were looking for when they decided to move to northern Maine.

“We are small town people. We connect to a small town and want to be part of the community,” Smith said from his Los Alamos, New Mexico home. “I want to know people when I go to the grocery store.”

On Monday night, the Houlton Town Council approved Smith’s appointment as town manager  and he is slated to arrive in his new hometown in a few weeks. Councilor Eileen McLaughlin abstained from voting because she has not met Smith.

“I look forward to getting to know him,” she said. 

Smith’s salary will be $110,000 and his new job with the town begins on April 29, Council Chair Chris Robinson said.

Hiring a town manager has been seven months in the making as town councilors reviewed 50 or so applications for the open slot. 

The Maine Municipal Association assisted the town in the search after town manager Marian Anderson retired after five years in the position for personal reasons at the end of August. Police Chief Tim DeLuca was working double duty as interim town manager until they found the right candidate for the job.

Smith and his wife have been interested in Maine and Robinson said he is a natural fit.

“He wants to be vested in the community,” he said.

Currently the director of community services for the city of Española, Smith is responsible for overseeing multiple budgets and community programs. He got his community development footing in recreation management, working for nearly a decade at the YMCA. 

“They do amazing training in financial development. I gained a lot of budgeting experience with the Y,” he said. 

Smith has served the arts community in various capacities including as the creative district director for Commerce and Development Corp., focusing on economic development and art and serving on the board of Los Alamos County Art in Public Places for four years.

In his current position he was part of a legislative team that went to the New Mexico state capitol to meet with the governor and legislators to secure funding for capital improvement projects and he wants to bring that experience to his new role in Houlton.

“I want to see the revenue streams in Houlton and take a close look at that,” he said. “I want to build a relationship with legislators to make sure that Houlton is not forgotten. I feel like there is money out there and I want to make sure it is getting to Houlton. I look forward to building relationships with the legislators, to be aware of funding opportunities for the town.” 

Los Alamos is two hours north of Albuquerque and Smith’s current home is at 7,000 feet elevation, in the mountains. Much like Aroostook County, there are pine trees and snow, he said. 

But as Smith and his wife looked to their future, they thought the timing was right to make a transition to a new place because their youngest son is graduating high school this year. 

“The cost of living in Los Alamos is outpacing what we want to pay for housing. In the desert southwest we are impacted more and more by forest fires every year,” he said. “We thought maybe this is a good time for a change. My wife owns her own business and the challenge is finding staff to work because the working class can’t afford housing in the town where we live.” 

As they worked toward a move, they had a number of things they wanted to see: They wanted to be closer to the coast, they wanted a more diversified forest because Hardin is an arborist; they wanted rivers and lakes and an area that was not too populated.

“As we checked all the boxes, it was, ‘wow northern Maine is calling to us,’” he said.

To add to his list of Maine positives, Smith loves canoeing and was a sea kayak guide in college, not to mention camping, hiking and pickleball.

As he transitions into his new role, Smith said he is eager to meet with the council, the Town staff, the business owners, and the residents of Houlton, so he can learn about the current needs of the community.

“I am ready to become part of the community and hopefully bring some new ideas and energy to the position as we make plans and improvements for the future,” he said.

Although Smith will initially arrive alone, he has been talking to realtors to find a home for his family. His wife, two sons and French bulldog Hazel will follow.