Legal Questions Swirl Over $300,000 Hunking Building Permit Fee

The new Hunking School continues to rise, with an initial opening planned by next January.

Hunking School under construction. (WHAV News photograph.)

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini during a recent school committee meeting. (WHAV News photograph.)

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini during a recent school committee meeting. (WHAV News photograph.)

The tit for tat between city councilors and Mayor James J. Fiorentini over the city’s $300,000 building permit fee for the new Hunking School has delivered new debate on social media.

The Fiorentini administration presented a legal opinion showing it would be “illegal” for the city not to have charged itself. Two city councilors, however, contend the city therefore broke the law by not charging for other city projects, such as the recent $1 million rebuilding of the Consentino School library.

“…collecting the building permit fee was legal. Although there has been discussion that the mayor should have waived the fee, in fact the mayor did not have the authority to waive the fee, and, had he done so that would not have been legal,” City Solicitor William D. Cox Jr. ruled last week after receiving an email from Councilors Andy Vargas and Colin F. LePage. The city councilors said the inquiry was made on behalf of an unnamed constituent, according to documents obtained by WHAV.

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

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

Fiorentini used Cox’s opinion to respond to another resident on social media.

“The mayor does not have the authority to waive any fees although the council does in certain limited circumstances which does not include projects like the Hunking School. It would have been illegal for me as mayor to have waived that fee,” Fiorentini responded. Replying to the same post, LePage challenged Fiorentini’s position.

“So, if it is illegal for the mayor to waive any permit fee…then by ‘whose authority’ was the permit fee for the Consentino library repairs waived by?” LePage asked. The city councilor contended the city’s formula for assessing building permit fees would have amounted to $11,120 for Consentino and “well over” the $300,000 charged for Hunking.

“Additionally, there were no permit fees charged (which I agree with) for these recent city-owned projects: the stadium bleachers completion, the police maintenance garage and the co-ed locker room facilities at the stadium. Was the waiving of those permit fees done illegally?” LePage continued.

In his opinion, Cox said current city ordinances do allow for waiver of fees, but only for “…nonprofit organization(s)…where at least 80 percent of the labor is being performed by volunteers.” The city lawyer also suggested councilors could change city laws. “If you wish to provide that either the mayor, the council or both the authority to waive the fees, the ordinance as it presently stands would need to be amended.”

Vargas also jumped into the fray.

andy_vargas_HEA-230“If previous city projects had their fees waived, I don’t understand why the recommendations that Councilor LePage and I are making are being labeled as ‘illegal.’ Does this mean that fees waived for previous city projects were illegal? Additionally, the fact that the fee was incorrectly assessed also raises concerns,” he wrote.

WHAV has requested a response from Fiorentini, but it was not received by news deadline.

During a recent city council meeting, Fiorentini contended the Hunking School Building Committee voted July 21, 2015 to approve the fee. However, LePage, remembered recently the fee was actually paid 20 days before the vote.

As WHAV first reported in August, 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 LePage. The committee is expected to air the matter in October.

4 thoughts on “Legal Questions Swirl Over $300,000 Hunking Building Permit Fee

  1. mayor… vargas would like to bring Lawrence to Haverhill so that he can get elected mayor….keep and eye on him…those of us who know him best….
    \know that he is not to be trusted…..lapage likes to see his name in the paper….he never follow up on an issue…. keep him at arms lenth …the building fee is the right thing for you to support….every city in the commonwealth has done the same thing that you did…thank you for your your leardership……will

  2. I believe that the matter was brought to the council on at least one and perhaps two occasions and that the council was informed of the proposed fees as well their ability to veto the fees. Someone could determine this by reviewing city council minutes.

  3. So, what a tangled web we weave when we practice to deceive !! You cannot have it both ways Mr. Mayor. Either you were wrong on the Hunking project or all the others. Pick one ! Also, this only proves that the city solicitor is controlled by the Mayor and does his bidding. Separate Legal council for the city council is a must after this fiasco. Haverhill residents deserve an unbiased legal opinion. It smells like the AG’S office in DC.