Mayor, Council Mull Short-, Long-Term Goals for City Finances, Development

View of the Merrimack River from the former Haverhill Paperboard site.

A new master plan would help the city decide how to guide development of major parcels, especially land on the banks of the Merrimack River.

The mayor and City Council discussed Haverhill’s short- and long-term future Tuesday night, making plans for a decision in two weeks on the disposition of a $10.9 million stash of free cash and agreeing to start work on a master plan to guide the city’s next 25 to 30 years.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini said the free cash balance is enough that he is comfortable using $500,00 or more to offset anticipated tax increases.

Fiorentini said he would be willing to consider “giving back” $1 million to taxpayers.

Using $500,000 to offset what the city would need to raise through property taxes would result in an increase of about $83 on the average home’s tax bill.

If the mayor declined to use any free cash for tax relief, the average tax bill would increase about $105, Fiorentini said.

Tax increases are being driven not by a large boost in spending but by rising property values, Fiorentini explained.

He reminded councilors that water and wastewater rates saw substantial increases this year, to fund improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment plant and to meet state and federal mandates for stormwater management.

Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua asked Fiorentini to consider a $2 million give-back, saying one of the most important aspects of life in Haverhill is the affordability of its housing.

In order to keep next year’s taxes level with this year, the city would have to return $2.4 million of the $10.9 batch of free cash, Fiorentini said. A return of $2 million would result in a small tax increase.

Fiorentini’s other ideas for the money include adding staff in the inspection, engineering and highway departments, security in the city clerk’s office, and paying for a consultant to create a new master plan for the city.

The largest share of the money, between $4 million and $6 million, should be set aside for this year’s budget, the mayor said.

Councilors had their own wish lists for the money.

Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan suggested $1 million for a capital plan rather than borrowing the money, but argued for fiscal restraint.

“I think it’s critical that we continue to build up the reserves,” said Sullivan, who said he is fearful that the retirement of Rep. Brian S. Dempsey will result in the loss of $2.4 million in state funds that the city has used for the last several years to pay its share of the debt left when the municipal Hale Hospital was closed.

Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien said her Number One priority for some of the money is to replace analog police and fire radios with new, encrypted models.

“My second wish is to add police officers, and my Number Three wish is marketing for the city of Haverhill,” Daly O’Brien said.

Council Vice President Melinda Barrett said she’d like to see some of the money used for a new playing field for the HHS softball team. She agree with Daly O’Brien that adding police officers would also be a good use of the money.

Councilor William J. Macek, unhappy with the residential tax rate increase approved last year, said he approves of a return of a portion of the free cash to taxpayers.

“Affordable housing and being an affordable community is key,” Macek said.

Macek also supports a new master plan, saying the last document was written in 1990 and designed to provide a vision of the city in 2005.

A new plan, written now, would document things like land-use policies and zoning rules that would control the city’s development into 2030 and beyond.

Councilor Andy X. Vargas asked Fiorentini to consider paying for a position suggested by a team of Brandeis University graduate students to oversee a performance-based budgeting process for the city.

Councilor Colin F. LePage commended the mayor for bringing the issue of plans for the free cash to the City Council weeks before a decision is to be made.

“I greatly appreciate the mayor starting this conversation prior to the tax classification hearing and informing the council and the residents of his thought and priorities regarding these funds,” LePage said. “I also would like to congratulate the mayor, while working with the council, for being fiscally responsible and putting us in this good financial position."

6 thoughts on “Mayor, Council Mull Short-, Long-Term Goals for City Finances, Development

  1. “rising property values,” –

    At least he got something right, except that the market is distorted. The assessment process is equally bogus, but no one complains because it keeps the money coming.

    Indefinite growth is mathematically impossible, but hey, bet on that it can, it will be ok.

  2. The problem Mr. Edwards is that the Hale debt is not a sexy sales pitch. Unlike Police radios or new ball fields there is no constituency to pander to when it comes to paying down debt.

    These knuckleheads are a week away from election and they have a wish list that they attach a number of votes to. Fiscal responsibility is an abstract that they can’t get their head around because a ball field would equal say a hundred votes and fiscal responsibility may equal 15.

    Once spent I agree the money is gone forever. But that held that hangs like an anvil over the city’s head waiting to crush us.

    • The number one biggest problem in the city of Haverhill is the thousands of criminal trespassing illegal invaders illegally in this country and living in the city. It is costing city taxpayers almost $15Million EVERY year alone to educate the children of the criminal trespassers attending Haverhill schools. If Haverhill statistics are similar to Boston’s, and they are, then 65% of crime in Haverhill is committed by illegals in the city. How many millions is that costing taxpayers?

      And these are just “actual” costs….not including the social costs of women being raped in city parks by the criminal invading thugs and shootings at Little League games. But all the brain dead liberals running the city just ignore those costs as if they didn’t really happen, don’t they?

      The anvil of criminal illegal invaders is already crushing the city…EVERY day… and the liberal fool elected officials could care less. Especially the child running for state rep who not only doesn’t denounce the harm happening in the city because of the illegals, he publicly takes actions to protect them! How f’kg insane is that??

  3. Furthermore this is a lot of investment money. Once spent it will be gone forever.I believe the Councillor Sullivan has the best thoughts on the matter and strong consideration should also be given to public safety.