The Haverhill City Council and Mayor James J. Fiorentini agreed on one thing at a conference held last night to discuss the upcoming city budget. It is going to be a tough one.
The mayor began the discussion by acknowledging everything is still a guess at this point, but he believes revenue drops will likely be substantial because the state is predicting a huge decrease in its revenue income.
“The state had a budget estimate that the best budget experts estimated at $4 billion and they’re now up to $6 billion. There is no way the state can get by without cutting things, including local aid. They can’t, and we all need to brace ourselves for it,” he said.
The mayor said the expectation is that unrestricted local aid, which is money cities receive outside of funding for schools, will likely be cut between 14-20 percent. The bigger unknown, however, revolves around Chapter 70, which is aid to public schools and makes up a large portion of the budget. He explained schools need to see an increase of 4.3 percent just to maintain the current level of services. He said, current estimates of a 5-10 percent cut in state school funding will be a serious problem.
“We’re told that the worst case scenario, the budget fall would be a 10 percent cut in all of our local aid, including Chapter 70. That would be absolutely, positively devastating if that happens,” the mayor said.
The mayor went on to say his primary goals will be to keep vital services such as police and fire intact with no layoffs or station closures and to find some way to keep the schools operating with no cuts in service. He acknowledged that those goals may be difficult to realize.
Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien asked about various projects already planned. The mayor responded that, unfortunately, many of those, including road paving and sidewalk replacements, will likely have to be put on hold for the foreseeable future.
The mayor and the Council did agree to hold further budget meetings within the next two weeks where they would meet with department leaders to get a better idea of their individual budgetary needs.