Councilors Probe Mayor on Hunking Fee; Win Partial Refund

New auditorium/cafeteria under construction at Hunking School. (WHAV News photograph.)

City Councilor Colin F. LePage, chairman of Administration and Finance Committee.

City Councilor Colin F. LePage, chairman of Administration and Finance Committee.

After revelations Haverhill charged the new Hunking School $300,000 in building permit fees, city councilors Tuesday night agreed to consider banning the practice. In the meantime, they asked the school’s building committee receive a $2,500 refund since local ordinances already prohibit charging electrical permit fees to city projects.

As WHAV revealed last month, the fee charged to the new school project last year is not reimbursable by the state and will be paid by taxpayers with interest over 20 years outside of limits set by the tax-limiting law, Proposition 2 ½. Councilors referred the matter to its Administration and Finance Committee, headed by Councilor Colin F. LePage.

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini.

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini.

“As far as local work for the city, that we don’t charge ourselves fees to do that,” LePage requested. He disputed Mayor James J. Fiorentini’s contention councilors were aware of the fees and that they were approved by members of the Hunking School Building Committee more than a year ago. The mayor produced minutes of the building committee meeting, showing “The committee voted unanimously to authorize payment of all invoices for services performed in the month of June, 2015, totaling $1,571,678.34.” However, notes from a March 22 meeting this year suggests members did not realize the building permit fee was included. According to those minutes, committee members “noted they have no recollection of ever casting a vote to approve the building fee assessment against the project and felt that it would not have been passed if the proposed fee was brought up for a vote.”

Either way, Fiorentini said, “I thought it was the right thing to do. I supported it then and I support it now.” He said the money was added to the city’s general fund.

LePage said the city has waived fees for non-profits, economic development projects such as Harbor Place, the city’s new Elmo D’Allessandro police maintenance garage and, presumably, the renovated Consentino School library. Back in 1994, he added, Haverhill waived building permit fees for Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School. Further, LePage noted, at the city’s standard building permit rates, a project similar to Hunking’s $60 million price tag would normally have been charged $800,000. He asked for consistency.

While acknowledging the council may do as it wishes with waivers, Fiorentini said, he prefers to begin with the “presumption everyone pays.”

Haverhill City Councilor Andy Vargas.

Haverhill City Councilor Andy Vargas.

City Councilor Andy Vargas questioned whether it is fair to spend money from the Hunking building permit fee now, while the obligation to pay it back over 20 years will fall to someone else.

“But isn’t it, in effect, finding ourselves just passing the buck down to the next generation to pay for that fine, or the next administrations down the line?” he asked. He said the council should explore prohibiting charging itself fees.

Councilor William J. Macek motioned to refund at least the $2,500 electrical permit fee already banned under the law and have the council subcommittee review the entire matter. His suggestion was backed by council Vice President Melinda E. Barrett and approved unanimously.

3 thoughts on “Councilors Probe Mayor on Hunking Fee; Win Partial Refund

  1. Vagas said “But isn’t it, in effect, finding ourselves just passing the buck down to the next generation to pay for that fine, or the next administrations down the line?”

    Look at that !!! It looks like Acorn Andy is getting a real life example of how liberal socialist governments operate. The term “tax and spend” isn’t just a buzz word conservatives use to describe liberals, Andy….it’s a factual reality. The other reality you should be aware of is that YOUR generation is going to get stuck with the affects of out of control liberalism across this country. Who exactly do you think is going to pay off the $20TRILLION debt?? When you were being indoctrinated into liberalism at BU Andy, did your liberal kool-aid professors ever tell you that it is YOU who will be paying that back?

    BTW Andy….you’ve now publicly proposed the city invest in two services that have merit….one was to invest in software that would provide financial transparency for what the mayor is doing with the budget that all citizens can view, and recently you proposed a process to assist business owners streamlining the ability to open in the city. Both have been completely ignored by the mayor. If you recall, I asked you after you took office what you were going to do when this situation arose. Well, here it is Andy! What are you going to do?

  2. “finding ourselves just passing the buck down to the next generation to pay” –

    That is exactly what is happening. Right now in the Massachusetts Budget (per CAFR) outlays are 2% higher than revenues, which is why they had to issue more debt to “balance” the budget. Beacon Hill (and probably The Mayor) would love to tax/fee more, but real median incomes have been in a fifteen year decline for middle and lower classes, more strain would cause more issues than we already have. Monetary policy has enabled rolling over of said debt(s), but that is now having diminishing returns. It is also why if anyone actually read the FOMC Minutes, Yellen admitted that further accommodation might require Congressional approval as negative rates are currently in a legal limbo and not explicitly authorized under The Federal Reserve Act.

    For Massachusetts, and maybe if I find time I’ll run numbers for Haverhill, the top three highest 5-year trends for increases are as follows:

    1. Elementary & Secondary Education/Group Insurance tied at 38%
    2. Medicaid 29%
    3. Debt Service 27%

    So Andy’s question is spot on.

    The pols making decisions of today will be dead, but Andy’s generation and younger have two outcomes: 1) Fewer services 2) Higher theft of the fruits of ones labor (if they have any fruits left to plunder), both have a terminal velocity because we already reached the point of two compounding growth functions growing at different rates (revenues/outlays) and they have already started to run away from each other. Then it’s just a matter of exponents to finish the job.

    Math is fun. Now go eat your cake these pols, especially at the state and federal levels are serving.

    • Preliminary quick follow-up for the city 5-year expense/revenue (2011-2015):


      1. Community Development +106%
      2. Human Services +74.1%
      3. Debt Service +28%
      4/5. General Government/Public Safety tied at +17%


      1. Other Revenue +76%
      2. Excises +25%
      3. Intergovernmental not Restricted +24%
      4. Real Estate/Property +12%
      5. Operating Grants 4.6%

      Overall total revenues have grown over the past five years at .6%, while expenses have gorwn at 1.4%