Behind This Year’s Budget Battle, a Councilor Hits the Books

Councilor Colin F. LePage pores over finance documents in the City Council office as Councilor William J. Macek looks on. (WHAV News photograph.)

His spreadsheets and charts may cause eyes to glaze over, but even those who disagree with him at times respect Haverhill City Councilor Colin F. LePage’s ability to dig into City Hall’s most boring documents and find money.

Several years ago, LePage found $200,000 in unused city accounts—the majority of which helped reduce the size of property tax increases. Two years ago, he discovered $120,000 somehow abandoned in a parking lighting account. He was able to get that money placed into a rainy-day account in hopes of convincing the Haverhill School Committee to hire additional health teachers to help combat the opiate drug epidemic. Sitting in on the Hunking School Building Committee, he opposed the city administration’s decision to charge the new school a building permit fee. He led the effort in March to try and get the money returned.

During this year’s budget debate—which saw the mayor’s budget twice voted down over a disagreement over the number of additional police to hire—he tackled under reporting of money the city receives in car excise taxes, interest and penalties on property taxes, earnings from investments and miscellaneous items.

“When you total those four items now—in one week’s time—they’ve gone up over $600,000. We’re at $990,364 in four items in revenue.”

LePage acknowledges many income sources are typically underestimated and provide the city with a safety cushion. However, he said those items must be accurately accounted for when determining if there is enough money to improve public safety or education.

While four councilors disagreed with the majority’s stance on this year’s budget, none disagreed with LePage’s math. Take, Councilor William J. Macek for example.

“This is not personal to me either. I’m great friends with Councilor LePage. I give him a lot of credit for all of the ability he has as chairman of ways and means. He’s a number cruncher,” Macek said.

During Tuesday’s budget impasse, Councilor Michael S. McGonagle also pointed to his colleague’s efforts.

“I look at this budget. I look at all this revenue that we’ve found that we’re not counting in, was not counted in the bottom line of this budget this year. So, if the mayor had said, ‘show me where we can get this money,’ Councilor LePage has done that over and above.”

City Finance Director Charles Benevento told councilors Tuesday, LePage is a frequent visitor to his office.

“No one is disputing what Councilor LePage has done. He’s in my office all the time giving me a hard time,” Benevento half joked.

Not content with the past, LePage has turned to counting likely future income to the city. That money includes fees developer Salvatore Lupoli is expected to pay once he breaks ground with his 10-story project called “The Heights,” downtown.

In some circles, LePage would be maligned for being, what is known in government circles as, a “policy wonk.” The councilor suggested Tuesday he wouldn’t necessarily disagree.

“I take that as what is my job and that is no disrespect to any of my fellow councilors,” he said.

One thought on “Behind This Year’s Budget Battle, a Councilor Hits the Books

  1. He has taken the place of former councilor Mike Young, also was a “wonk”, who would pore over the budget finding issues that not many would see.
    Sadly, he is the only one taking this seriously enough to take the time to look over the accounts and find the money the Mayor has hidden. There is a lot more, keep digging until you find the pot of gold. Not all the money is easy to find. One older former councilor told me a decade ago, that there is money all over the place if you know where to look. Maybe he needs some help. How about it councilors ?