Haverhill Officials Brainstorm What to do About Loss of State, Federal Money

City Finance Director Charles Benevento and Mayor James J. Fiorentini during 2017 budget talks. (WHAV News photograph.)

City Finance Director Charles Benevento and Mayor James J. Fiorentini tell city councilors about an expected loss of state and federal money, possibly causing local cuts next year. (WHAV News photograph.)

Possibly deep cuts in state and federal money for Haverhill have officials concerned about next year’s city spending.

During a mayor-council conference last week, covered only by WHAV, city Finance Director Charles Benevento painted a grim picture of what may be ahead.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty in what’s happening now because it’s not just the Commonwealth that they’re worried about. Some of the concerns they talk about is what’s going to happen with the federal budget,” Benevento said.

He said non-education state aid has never recovered to levels seen before the Great Recession, the state is taking in less tax money than hoped and the federal government may trim already shrinking Community Development Block Grants. All this on top of the potential loss of special earmarks secured by Haverhill’s former influential state representative. Former Rep. Brian S. Dempsey, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, had been able to deliver about $2.5 million a year to pay down the former Hale Hospital debt and bring in other state grants.

Benevento said it is likely state tax collections will be short by as much as a billion dollars this year. While the stock market is up, the city’s finance chief explained, withholding taxes aren’t growing because paychecks aren’t growing.

A number of other theories were also advanced. Council Vice President Melinda E. Barrett suggested sales taxes are down because of online sales by giants such as Amazon. Mayor James J. Fiorentini agreed online sales may be a factor. However, he said, he has heard some people delayed paying federal taxes hoping the Trump administration would be successful in lowering rates. “People were withholding their tax payments waiting to see what happened with the federal government, to see if they get if they get a larger deduction and, in fact, state tax revenues were off in a number of states.”

Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua, who is head of the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce, posited people aren’t selling properties because they are waiting for a reduction in capital gains taxes.

City Able to Make Up Some Cut This Year; Worried About Next

Whatever the cause, impacts are already being felt locally in education and public safety. Benevento explained the school department did not receive a $500,000 grant this year to help relieve overcrowding in schools. Superintendent James F. Scully was able to use city money to replace $345,000 in lost grants for kindergarten, preschool, literacy and college-level classes taught at the high school. The police department lost more than a half million dollars in grants for staffing, community policing and gang violence control.

“The problem is, while absorbing all these, if there’s any kind of budget cuts and reductions in (fiscal year) 18, it just gets harder for them to do that.”

Federal grants that began during the Richard Nixon administration to replace urban renewal money have dropped from $1.6 million annually at its peak to about half as much next year. Benevento explained, “CDBG funding is at its lowest level they have ever received.”

The loss of federal money hits sidewalks and park repairs, local charities and affordable housing. Fiorentini said Arlington Street hasn’t suffered the same fate as the rest of the lower Acre neighborhood because it benefited from federal help. The mayor added previous block grants paid for windows at Tilton School and a fire truck.

Possible ways the city can make up for lost money is to adopt a local tax on recreational marijuana should the state approve. Fiorentini said there are benefits to recreational marijuana regulations.

“We need the money. There’s absolutely no doubt about that,” Fiorentini said, On the other hand, what we absolutely want to do is dry up the illicit sales of marijuana.”

Council President John A. Michitson renewed his call for the mayor to adopt an economic development program to lure new, high-tax-paying businesses. “We talked about it in FY15 or FY16, maybe we’d be in a little bit different position. Why do you just have to look at one year at a time?”

Fiorentini and city councilors agreed to revisit the matter once the first draft state budget emerges after New Year’s.

9 thoughts on “Haverhill Officials Brainstorm What to do About Loss of State, Federal Money

  1. Maybe you should have stood up to your buddies at the State House who voted themselves a yuuuge pay raise Mr Mayor ! OH WAIT, You did the same thing here…the council voted for a pay raise for you and themselves too ! Sadly, most people are like lemmings and allow the theft and mismanagement to continue. Then they fall for this dog and pony show about feigning concern for the budget. What a joke. Who’s ass you going to kiss now ?

    • Mayor Fiorentini says that “Andy (Vargas) works hard for his constituency”. What the Mayor does not point out is that Andy’s constituency is a small and select group of Haverhill residents. Vote for Andy and you are voting for Haverhill as a sanctuary city.

    • A: I’m trying my best to expose Andy for the illegal invader sympathizer that he is. I’m trying my best to give factual reasons, not emotional rhetoric,to exposing his unconditional support to protect the illegals in the city is making Haverhill a VERY dangerous place. Voters just have to look at what is going on to realize Andy’s agenda is NOT to protect the interests of Haverhill citizens, it is to protect criminal invaders.

      Check out the websites familysearch.org and ancestry.com. Neither one of these sites lists Andy or his family as living in Haverhill during the last US Census in the year 2000. That’s because his father is in the country illegally, and people with that immigration status never fill out the census for fear of exposing themselves. Just another example of the deception of Andy’s political ideology.

  2. It was bad enough that during the presidential election mayor failurentini drew “National” attention when he denied a city property owner his First Amendment rights to display lawn signs for Trump, the candidate the mayor opposed. Then city councilor Andy Vargas put a HUGE bullseye target on the city’s back when he intentionally interfered with Federal Government immigration officials in Haverhill doing their job. Andy also ridiculed and made fun of President Trump during a public speech at a luncheon.

    Do these incompetent liberal Democrats think that Federal Officials aren’t taking notice of their disdain for the rule of law, and support of an insane liberal agenda? Do they think no one at the Federal level is paying attention to their rejection of President Trump’s agenda, and interference with actual on the ground programs/missions?

    The financial pain for city taxpayers is going to extremely severe. If you voted in the past for any of these incompetent Democrats this is on you. The tax and spend policies and mismanagement by these fools is coming home to roost.

    • Oh, Jack why don’t you cry us a river about how poor little Ricky is a victim.

      Go on and on and on and tell us how poor little weak-minded Ricky has had a tough time in America.

      Please enlighten us about how poor little cry baby Ricky just doesn’t get enough of his slice of the American Pie.

      Ricky really isn’t a victim . Ricky’s just a sniveling little rich kid with a delicate little personality and thin skin. Ricky has a big mouth and a Jell-O spine.

      City enforced the sign ordinance on that very piece of property several times but when poor little Ricky with Kool-Aid pumping through his veins was told he had to follow the law it was a crisis of conscience for all you lovers of the Russian Trader and poor little trust fund Ricky.

      Nothing more pathetic then a man who plays victim absolutely nothing more unmanly.

      • NeccoRN: Whine all you want about your personal dislike for Dick, but you have no idea of the political consequences of that little stunt from mayor taxman.

        Let’s not forget the mayor’s statement to The Eagle Tribune after Andy Vargas interfered with Federal Government immigration officials…the mayor praised Andy publicly by saying “Andy works hard to support his constituency”. No objection to Andy’s actions. No public statement condemning the interference. No thanks of support for Federal Law enforcement officials working on public safety issues in the city. Again…does the mayor think Federal officials aren’t paying attention to his support of Andy and rejection of what they are doing? Honestly, the guy is more than incompetent…he’s a baffoon! When the Federal Government gives Failurentini and Vargas the payback they have coming it is going to be extremely painful. And if voters in Haverhill are so stupid to elect Andy as State Rep given what’s he’s done they deserve every once of the pain they have coming.

  3. “because paychecks aren’t growing.” – It’s called theft, by our own government and The Fed.

    While the data streams are not as precise here in MA, we do live in a top five cost-of-living state, with Boston being the number one city in the country for income disparity. Boston city officials and Beacon Hill could care less why as long as the “pay to play” and their crony capitalistic friends get paid.

    Mayor Jimmy inviting ostensibly Third World Residents, with no education, no skill, or reliant on social safety nets doesn’t put Haverhill “on the move”, it puts it in an economic spiral of no return. Benevento is correct about the billion-dollar shortfall, this is clearly stated in Massachusetts bond disclosures, and will continue. What did public officials do at city and state government do? Raises for all!

    So while local, state, and federal officials (and their friends) reap the rewards of impoverishing its own citizenry, households simply can never make up the loss. Government and corporations can via financially engineered BS, but that story is for another day.