Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini. (WHAV News file photograph.)
Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini’s proposed $194.5 million budget, which increases spending by $7.2 million—mostly for public schools, is receiving a largely positive reaction.
City finances beginning July 1 were expected to be austere, but Fiorentini told WHAV additional state education money and a $5 million withdrawal from the city’s free cash, means more money for schools, an added police lieutenant to help lead the fight against gangs and level funding for most other departments. The mayor said he turned to the city’s free cash because other revenue sources did not grow enough.
“New growth is one of the things that concerns me. It’s up more than I thought it would be in February, but it’s still way, way below what it was a few years ago,” Fiorentini said.
The money taken from free cash represents about half of the total available, but the city will not touch its rainy-day fund. The mayor said his budget was also helped by an unexpected decrease in health insurance costs. Last year, Fiorentini switched city workers to the state’s Group Insurance Commission’s health programs.
Haverhill School Superintendent James F. Scully said “the mayor has been very fair to us,’ providing a 6.3 percent increase in the school budget—one of the largest in the state. He added, other cities are expecting layoffs.
The mayor called the school increases, “generous.”
“We’re in a great position. We are able to give 71 percent of the amount of new revenues going to the schools—a 6.3 percent increase—a $5 million increase.”
City Council President John A. Michitson, who voted against all versions of the mayor’s budget last year because they did not include enough new police officers, said he likes the hiring of a police lieutenant to manage a partnership with Lowell-based UTEC to address gang violence.
“It is linked to many of the shootings the past couple of years. I’m hoping to bolster public safety more during the budget review process,” Michitson told WHAV. He said he also agrees with hiring a new maintenance/project manager for capital projects and an additional Highway worker.
The mayor plans to unveil his new anti-gang violence program Friday. “Crime has gone down, but the gang violence continues to be a major, major concern of mine. So, we’re going to try a new approach this year,” he said.
There was a call during a recent school budget meeting for more spending. Fiorentini, however, said proponents of further increases should be upfront and say they want an override of the state tax-limiting law, Proposition 2 ½. “I think the people that say, ‘let’s have dramatic increases year after year’ need to be very transparent and say what they want, which is an override.”
In total, the mayor cut $551,000 in spending requests from non-school and non-police department heads. “The addition of our new lieutenant means the city has added 22 police officers since 2010, including six last year to bring the department to 106 total next year.”
Michitson said he is “thrilled” Fiorentini also put in money for a consultant to review a “promising city-wide fiber optic broadband network.” The council president said Councilor Melinda E. Barrett has also been reviewing the potential fiber project, “with the hope of higher performance, ubiquitous access and lower prices.”