The city of Haverhill is being described as one that is improving the quality of life for residents, and also facing new challenges as it tackles others.
An “end of the year recap” address to the city council Tuesday night by Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini compared 2014 to the prior year on issues such as police and crime, schools and MCAS scores, finances and taxes and economic development.
Fiorentini told councilors crime was down significantly in 2014, according to preliminary numbers. “To tackle the gang problem, the city began by adding eight additional police officers, in the budgets over the past two years. The city also applied for, and obtained, a municipal staffing grant to assist the police in increasing patrols in the Mount Washington area and in the acre. Our challenge in 2015 is the heroin epidemic and we will tackle that with the same energy that we tackled the gang violence issue,” Fiorentini said.
“Having 1,000 police is not going to solve the heroin epidemic. It is about education, and about treatment and about public health. We have formed an overdose task force,” Fiorentini added.
As for the schools, Fiorentini said, “Up until this year, no Haverhill school other than 3 charter schools had ever been rated as level 1. Level 1 is not just about performance, it is also about effort, subgroups and improvement in performance. In 2014, we had four level one schools, Nettle, Pentucket Lake, Bradford Elementary and the Silver Hill Horace Mann Charter School. At a time when the number of level one schools state wide went down, it is impressive indeed.”
However, among the school priorities in 2015, Fiorentini called for improving Tilton elementary school
“If we are going to improve the Tilton School, we need to start with the simple and common sense idea that if you work harder and longer, you will do better. Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston got it right earlier this week when he proposed extended learning time in the Boston public schools. This is what I have proposed as a turnaround plan for the Tilton School – extended learning time- – and ultimately it is the only thing that will work. But extended learning times comes with cost. I have told the superintendent that if he comes in with a proposal for extended learning time, I will propose to the city council that, if we can find a way to fund it, that we do so,” Fiorentini said.
The bottom line to improvements is having the money to do so, according to Fiorentini. He said the city’s financial picture in 2014 was positive, except in one category: Free Cash.,in which $2.4 million was recently drawn to make up for anticipated state aid to the debt payments of the former Hale Hospital.
“The only negative in our financial picture is that for many years we have relied upon $2.4 million a year to help us pay the Hale debt. Unfortunately, this year the Governor took away our Hale debt relief money. This caused us to drain our reserves down far below where they should be. It is critical that this money be replaced in 2015. I know that Representative Dempsey is working hard to restore it,” Fiorentini said.