The fate of Haverhill’s proposed $216 million spending plan for the year that begins in less than a month may hinge on collecting cannabis impact fees and hiring a second mental health clinician for the police department.
The issues were tied together by City Council Vice President Colin F. LePage last week during a line of questioning centered on the police department’s proposed $13.6 million budget. LePage noted retired Police Chief Alan R. DeNaro requested two “behavioral response” workers to deescalate violence and address core issues. DeNaro told WHAV in March mental health issues have been at the root of several high-profile incidents of violence across the country as well as locally. Councilor Timothy J. Jordan told Mayor James J. Fiorentini he is drawing a line in the sand.
“I know how passionately, strongly the chief felt about this. There’s 160 hours in a week. We have one position filled. That’s only 40 hours that’s covered with someone that is trained to do this. For me, I will not vote for the budget if there are not at least two in there,” he said.
Fiorentini fired back, saying he isn’t surprised since Jordan hasn’t supported his spending plans in the past. Jordan responded that he voted to approve last year’s budget when the mayor caved and added a second replacement fire truck.
Acting Police Chief Anthony L. Haugh said the clinical worker and a separate substance abuse case worker are part of “wellness reforms” police departments are undertaking nationwide.
LePage argued the city has the money to pay for the extra position, noting $700,000 is expected next year from cannabis excise taxes—an amount separate from “impact fees” that are the subject of a lawsuit against the city by Haverhill Stem, a downtown cannabis retailer. He quoted the mayor as saying there is no dispute over impact fees from two other retailers and that money could be counted. City Finance Director Charles Benevento, however, explained why he’s not including those amounts.
“I don’t know if these other places will have a problem when it comes to writing us a check,” he said.
Stem owner and President Caroline Pineau was in the audience, but didn’t speak.
Fiorentini said he was willing to further discuss Pineau’s lawsuit, but only in private.
“As you know they are suing us. They didn’t get a temporary injunction, but they’re still planning to go forward with a lawsuit. What we use it on, I’d rather discuss that off the record,” he said.
While none of the councilors expressed interest in a private discussion on the subject, Councilor William J. Macek said he would support the police budget if the mayor will at least consider adding the additional clinician if impact fees are ultimately collected.
Councilors also made note of Fiorentini’s decision not to add five more officers—for a total of 115—as requested by the department and the lack of a permanent animal shelter.
Besides LePage and Jordan, Councilor John A. Michitson also voted against approving the mayor’s police budget. Council President Melinda E. Barrett and Councilors Macek, Joseph J. Bevilacqua, Thomas J. Sullivan and Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien cast votes in favor, while Councilor Michael S. McGonagle was absent. All decisions are tentative since councilors plan a final review later.