Council to Revisit Hunking Building Permit Fee; Mayor Says It’s Too Late

Consultant Katy Lillian with former school Superintendent James F. Scully during construction of the new Hunking School. (WHAV News file photograph.)

City Councilor Colin F. LePage. (Jay Saulnier photograph for WHAV News.)

When the city converts its temporary financing for the new Hunking School into a long-term bond this fall, at least one city councilor is again asking for $300,000 in building permit fees to be refunded.

Councilor Colin F. LePage told his colleagues Tuesday night residents shouldn’t be paying for the city’s 2015 building and demolition permit fee and expected interest.

“We reduce that by $300,000 so the taxpayers don’t pay over 20 years for a $300,000 building permit,” he said.

Not so fast, responded Mayor James J. Fiorentini, when asked by WHAV.

“No. That money has already been spent. Take it from someone else. There is no free pot of money,” the mayor said.

Councilors first tried to claw back the money a year and a half ago, voting to have the disputed fees removed from the Hunking construction budget before finals bills are totaled for the city’s portion of the project. The council vote turned out to be symbolic since it was not part of a formal order or ordinance.

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Fiorentini previously defended the fee, saying there is a “presumption everyone pays.” He also said, “I thought it was the right thing to do. I supported it then and I support it now.” The money was added to the city’s general fund and used for education and other city expenses, the mayor added at the time.

As WHAV reported nearly two years ago, the fee charged to the new school project is not reimbursable by the state and will be paid by taxpayers with interest over 20 years outside of limits set by the tax-limiting law, Proposition 2 ½.

Because the city processed the fee during another fiscal year, city finance officials have said, any refunds would have to come from the city’s free cash account to balance the books.

The state paid 72 percent of the Hunking project. The city sold bonds to pay $10 million of its portion and used temporary borrowing for the rest of the project.

Receipts show Haverhill received a $300,000 building and demolition permit fee July 2, 2015 on what was an estimated $50 million Hunking project. School building committee members, however, said they were not aware of the building permit assessment. According to minutes of a meeting, committee members “noted they have no recollection of ever casting a vote to approve the building fee assessment against the project and felt that it would not have been passed if the proposed fee was brought up for a vote.”