Tight Vote Approves Compromise Budget; $200,000 More for Schools

(WHAV News file photograph.)

Haverhill High School (WHAV News file photograph.)

By a narrow margin, Haverhill City Councilors approved a compromise budget last night that comes nearly half way to meeting school advocates’ demands, while adding two more police officers.

The basis of the compromise was a proposal by Mayor James J. Fiorentini to add a little more than $1 million in new spending. Of that amount, the mayor proposed giving the school department $150,000 towards a request for an additional $425,000 in school funding. Fiorentini agreed to up that amount $50,000 after councilors cut his tree planting budget by the same total.

“You asked for a compromise, and I came in with a compromise. It’s the best that I can do,” the mayor said.

Councilors voted 5-4 to tentatively approve the $195 million spending plan for the year that begins in 10 days. Voting against were Council President John A. Michitson and Councilors Melinda E. Barrett, Colin F. LePage and Tim Jordan. A final vote is scheduled to take place next Tuesday.

Michitson explained his vote by saying, “I’m going to hold out for $400,000. Violent crime is very much related to the schools as a long-term solution.”

Besides an education increase lower than the amount approved by a majority of the School Committee, a sticking point was how Fiorentini proposed placing the extra money into the school budget. He required the money be added to the school department’s rainy-day fund, which may only be accessed by a future vote of the City Council with the mayor’s approval. Fiorentini explained he wanted that money to be available to incoming Superintendent Margaret Marotta.

Jordan argued the money should be placed in the school reserve account which may be drawn down by the School Committee at any time. “I trust the superintendent more than I trust the Council and mayor,” he said.

The motion to cut $50,000 from Fiorentini’s $109,000 tree and shrub planting item came from Barrett. The mayor, who has sole authority under the city charter to add money to a line item in the budget, agreed to the cut and a provision that the amount could go into the school reserve fund.

While two more police officers—a sergeant and a patrolman—were added to the budget, Barrett held out hope six additional positions would be added. Police Chief Alan R. DeNaro said he supported the revised plan, partly because it would be difficult to find more recruits. To that, Barrett quipped, another town may be laying off police Haverhill could hire.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen with Methuen. They may have a lot of police officers available when they go into receivership,” Barrett said.

For every dollar in increases, Fiorentini showed how each would be paid without raising taxes to the limit. The $130,000 in police salaries came from an expected excess in next winter’s snow removal budget. The first $150,000 in his school spending increase comes from expected Medicaid reimbursements typically related to students.

Increases Offset by Other Income or Spending Cuts

Other spending increases include $205,000 for a new generator at the police station, $42,000 to replace federal money for opioid counselors, $15,000 for security cameras at Cashman Field, $200,000 extra to pay for recycling now that China is refusing U.S. throwaways, $10,000 to retain a consultant to deal with the recycling problem and $300,000 in sidewalk improvements. More than half of the money to pay these costs is expected to come from the sale of city-owned Merrimack Street land for Sal Lupoli’s proposed 10-story housing and commercial development known as “The Heights.”

LePage earlier reminded the mayor of the excess in snow removal expenses and the expected income from Lupoli. The councilor has developed a reputation over the last few years for identifying pockets of money. He told WHAV he has found $1.8 million in obscure accounts or underestimated income.

Besides DeNaro, other police officers supported the budget plan, including Haverhill Police Patrolmen’s Association President Rick Welch and Superior Officers Association President Robert P. Pistone. Each worried that a budget impasse would result in a pared down, 1/12th budget on July 1.

While Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan also voted for the revised plan, he said he hoped the mayor would raise his school compromise offer by another $125,000. He explained the city has long known of problems at Tilton and Consentino Schools.

Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua, who voted for the compromise, said the city’s emphasis must be on public safety. “There’s a fear in the city right now with the gang issue.” The other councilors in support were Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien, William J. Macek and Michael S. McGonagle.

Speaking against and holding out for the full $425,000 extra for the school budget, were School Committee Vice Chairman Paul A. Magliocchetti and members Sven A. Amirian and Richard Rosa; Joanna Dix and Thomas Granneman of the Haverhill Education Coalition, and parent Devan Ferreira.