Haverhill Mayor, City Council Near Agreement on Replacing Two Fire Trucks, Resolving Budget Impasse

Haverhill City Hall. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Haverhill may be a step closer to getting two new fire trucks and resolving a budget impasse.

After the City Council last night reiterated safety concerns about two 33-year-old trucks now in backup service, Mayor James J. Fiorentini proposed a compromise.

“Right now, the fire truck replacement plan calls for buying one truck this year, the tanker truck next year and a second pumper truck in two years. I’ll commit to you to having an amended capital plan before you, no later than Labor Day, that will purchase two pumper trucks. We can pay for this by amending the firetruck replacement plan to move the tanker truck replacement out two years from 2022 to 2024. This is acceptable to the fire chief. In fact, he’s all for it. He proposed it,” the mayor said.

On the last day of June, councilors voted 6-3 to reject the mayor’s budget for the year that began the next day. Instead, a one-twelfth budget was approved to cover the month of July only. Councilors balked at a borrowing order that called for the purchase of only one new truck. The mayor said the city could look into purchasing a second pumper truck once officials learn how much money the city can expect from the state.

The Council and mayor went at it again last night with Council members hoping to invoke a seldom used state law allowing them to add to the mayor’s proposed budget. However, City Solicitor William D. Cox Jr. told the councilors he did not believe that law is applicable.

“It limits the Council’s powers regarding the budget to strictly the reduction or rejection of any item and is prohibited from increasing any item in or the total of the budget and from adding any item without the approval of the mayor,” he said. Cox explained the state law is aimed at a scenario where funding for an entire department is omitted rather than for situations where councilors disagree over the amounts allocated.

Despite that assessment, most councilors held firm the old trucks are dangerous and must be replaced immediately, pointing out that the engines were assessed as unsafe as far back as 1991. In addition, Councilor Michael S. McGonagle pointed out that with the current low interest rates, now would be the time to use bond money to purchase new vehicles.

“I think it’s the time to do it. It’s not going to hurt this budget. I do understand and I think the mayor was very prudent in the way that he approached the budget and I think the Council was very prudent, but money is very inexpensive to bond right now. It’s probably as low as it’s going to be in a long time and this gets us two front line trucks and I think we owe it to the citizens,” McGonagle said.

While councilors said they are still hoping to get the second truck approved sooner, they agreed to talk with the mayor over the next few weeks to find a way to make the issue work to everyone’s satisfaction.

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