Mayor Fiorentini, City Council Appear to Remain Far Apart on Spending Plan Resolution

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini delivers annual State of the City address in 2019. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Both sides in Haverhill’s budget battle appear to be digging in as the city continues operating on a temporary budget.

City councilors Tuesday night approved a budget for July after defeating Mayor James J. Fiorentini’s full-year budget by a vote of 6-3. In separate interviews with WHAV this week, City Council President Melinda E. Barrett said councilors have consistently called obsolete fire trucks a public safety issue, while the mayor said the council vote took him by surprise.

“Capital projects, like fire trucks, are discussed later, when you’re doing capital plans so…I was stunned, quite frankly,” Fiorentini said.

Barrett countered the mayor was present when councilors voted 7-1 Monday night that he commit to replacing the city’s two oldest fire trucks. She added the subject came up earlier too when Fire Chief William F. Laliberty presented his budget to the City Council.

“We’re not being frivolous. We’re not being fiscally irresponsible when we think that two 33-year-old fire trucks that the fire chief is thinking either, A, won’t pass their safety test in August, or B, even if they do, they’re on the precipice of complete collapse,” she said.

Engine 9 is housed at Rocks Village. (Courtesy photograph.)

Council Vice President Colin F. LePage says one of the fire trucks, Engine 8, is at Ayers Village and the other, Engine 9, is at Rocks Village. He asks which neighborhood should be left with a truck bought during the administration of Mayor William H. Ryan? He argues new trucks would cost taxpayers less than $2 each, per year, over 20 years.

Fiorentini said he is proud his spending plan avoids layoffs or furloughs due to the pandemic.

“We didn’t have a single layoff or furlough in our budget. Not one. Zero. We were able to do this because we canceled a lot of capital projects, used that money to preserve jobs, because we’ve very carefully, over the years, had strict fiscal discipline, used the money that we didn’t spend to build up a big rainy-day fund. We had the second largest number of reserves of any gateway city in the Commonwealth. And this is…it’s raining. It’s a torrential rain storm, so we used our rainy-day fund to preserve jobs,” he said.

The 1/12th budget that was approved by the City Council gives the mayor and Council one month to work out the rest of the $205.5 million dollar spending plan for the balance of the fiscal year. Fiorentini said shutting down operations is not an option.

“When the federal government shuts down, they have continuing resolutions so the essentials of government continue to function. You don’t have that on the local level. If you shut down, you shut down. There’s no city hall. There’s no police. There’s no fire. There’s no nothing, and you cannot do that. We’re on the front lines of protecting people.”

Barrett said two options remain on the table. “I’ll ask for a 1/12th budget to be prepared as well as the budget the mayor presented.”

The Council president says she is giving the mayor time to grieve the loss of his sister and will reach out to him next week. “I hope the mayor sees a way forward for this because it’s a public safety issue,” she said.

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