What often becomes Haverhill’s second round of budget negotiations of the year takes place tonight when the City Council sets property tax rates for consumers and businesses.
In an email and social media campaign launched Friday, Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini started lobbying against raising taxes to the maximum allowed rate. He said cities such as Salem, Lawrence and Cambridge do not tax at the maximum amount so as to maintain a reserve for future years if needed.
“Only in Haverhill, which has a very loud and vocal group advocating that we tax as much as we can, is having a levy reserve controversial. In every other city, having a levy reserve is celebrated as a good thing,” Fiorentini said in a statement.
City councilors, however, often point to the city’s surplus—known as “free cash”—as evidence the city has more money available to pay for school and fire station repairs and improvements, for example. An attempt last year to add $3 million in maintenance-related spending, which would have led to higher taxes, didn’t advance to a vote. The year before, however, the mayor vetoed the Council’s original tax plan to raise taxes to the Proposition 2 1/2 limit to pay for citywide repairs. A compromise was later reached, using some of the city surplus to reduce what would have been higher tax increases.
Haverhill currently shifts more of the tax burden onto commercial and industrial properties. For the last two years, is has charged businesses 63% more. If the city makes no changes to the rate, Assessor Christine M. Webb says, average single-family home taxes will rise $111 while average commercial property taxes fall $24.
On Friday, without specifying an amount, the mayor said he “will be recommending that we not tax as much as we are allowed to tax.” Instead, he said, he called the amount not being taxed as “setting money aside to build new schools.”
Fiorentini added he wants permission to “waive the outdoor dining fees for the coming year,” “application fees to liquor license renewals” and reduce “liquor license fees because restaurants were shut down for months.”
He also proposed increasing the personal property tax exemption for Haverhill small businesses from $5,000 to $7,000, which said, would help approximately 90 more “mom and pop” businesses to pay no personal property tax next year.
The Haverhill City Council meets tonight at 7 p.m., in the Theodore A, Pelosi City Council Chambers. As a public service, the meeting will be broadcast live by 97.9 WHAV.