The business of running a city is not just about how money should be spent, but also when. This was demonstrated this week in a matter showing Haverhill’s mayor and City Council do not always see eye to eye.
It became apparent when Councilors Colin F. LePage and Timothy J. Jordan expressed frustration with the lack of movement on a proposal to hire a social worker to accompany police on certain calls. The request, made two months ago by Haverhill Police Chief Alan R. DeNaro, received the full support of the City Council. Since then, however, to Jordan’s dismay, the mayor has taken no action and said he’ll consider it only during the next budget, which begins July 1.
“This is a very reasonable ask—75 grand annually. I don’t know why we’re waiting to say I’ll consider it in the next budget. We should be having it on the streets now, helping our police department, helping our citizens. Don’t just tell me you’re inclined to do it. I’m saying do it,” said Jordan.
Under the city’s charter, only Mayor James J. Fiorentini may put money in the budget.
On another agenda item—a request for information on how money from retail marijuana sales is being used—LePage again linked the difficulty the Council faces in spending on priorities. His voice cracking with emotion at times, he pointed to extraordinary efforts he took more than five years ago to have the school department receive money to hire a middle school health instructor.
The additional health teacher was seen as a critical step toward combatting the city’s opioid overdose problem. LePage’s son Christopher had lost his battle with addiction that summer.
“The superintendent told me that they could easily use three full-time substance abuse counselors throughout the district. There is only one part-time at the high school. Part time. One. It’s really hard for me to go through these debates over things when we have plenty of money and should prioritize what we think is important is important for the community. After the tragedy of losing my son, that seemed to happen very quickly. That budget happened, we had a teacher that year and the next year we had two more teachers,” he recalled.
In December, DeNaro noted, police have responded to many calls over the past three years involving suicides, drug overdoses, domestic violence, runaways and other situations where a social worker would have been helpful in defusing the immediate problem and getting help for those individuals.
The mayor said he generally supports DeNaro’s social worker idea but stood firm on not acting on it before the next budget.
“I understand there’s many things that councilors would like. I happen to like this one towards the top of the list. This is a budget item and will be very carefully considered in the FY22 budget.”
Councilors argued the money is available now from any number of sources, including the city’s $9 million surplus or from receipts the police department turns back to the city at the end of the fiscal year.
Following the meeting, the mayor released a statement explaining his decision not to spend that money at this point. “Before we commit to new items, we need to pause, check our revenue estimates and make certain we continue to do the things we are already doing. Strict fiscal discipline has brought us to this point. We cannot abandon that now.”