Haverhill Councilors Reconsider $217 Million City Budget Tonight; Year Starts Thursday

Haverhill City Hall. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Haverhill City Councilors take up the city’s proposed $217 million spending plan tonight with little time to spare with the new budget year beginning Thursday.

On the Council agenda is what appears to be an attempt at breaking the deadlock between a majority of the City Council and Mayor James J. Fiorentini. Councilors will consider an order placing $500,000 in cannabis “impact fees,” if collected, into an account for youth activities and mental health. The amount is an increase from the $358,000 the mayor suggested last week as a compromise, but falls short of the $700,000 some councilors requested. Fiorentini said he is willing to dedicate a portion of an impact fee, which is being challenged by at least one cannabis retailer, but not the undisputed local option tax.

“I am not going to commit any of the tax revenue to a special fund as I indicated. I heard from the councilors and I really need to hold firm on that. That would upset the budget. It’s not the right thing to do,” Fiorentini told WHAV Monday.

If the Council rejects the budget again, the mayor said, the city will not shut down July 1. “I made sure of that this time,” Fiorentini said, referencing state law.

Haverhill City Councilor John A. Michitson during an earlier appearance over 97.9 WHAV.

Councilor John A. Michitson, among others, called for the special rainy day fund last week.

“What I’m concerned though about is that the youth mental health crisis worsened by COVID in combination with substance abuse that that must be something that we address over a long period of time,” he said.

Councilors are also expected to consider related housekeeping, such as accepting a state law allowing at least 25% of “a particular fee, charge or other receipt” be earmarked to the dedicated account. Another order specifies the city dedicate 40% of the “Cannabis Local Impact Fee” to “for the purpose of sports activity for children, mental health for children and adults and any other impact from the legalization of marijuana.”

Last week, councilors voted 5-4 against the mayor’s budget—the second time in four years members defeated such a spending plan days before the new year begins. Besides Michitson, votes against the budget were cast by Council President Melinda E. Barrett, Vice President Colin F. LePage and Councilors Timothy J. Jordan and Michael S. McGonagle.

Michitson noted a $125,000 city match would recur annually for five years if Haverhill is accepted into the Drug Free America program. In addition, he said, such nonprofits as MakeIt Haverhill, Cogswell ArtSpace, Leaving the Streets Ministry and the Haverhill Public-Private Partnership—established by retired U.S. Army Lt. General Jack Gardner—could tap the dedicated money.

Councilors Joseph J. Bevilacqua, Thomas J. Sullivan, Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien and William J. Macek voted in favor of the budget.

The city expects to collect $700,000 in “local option” taxes—not to be confused with “impact fees”— from cannabis shops. Local option taxes are equal to 3% of gross sales from those retailers.

Following the council’s defeat of the budget, members agreed to an appeal by Macek to reconsider their actions this week. Macek said councilors’ eleventh-hour opposition is “unreasonable.”

In other business before the City Council, retired Police Chief Alan R. DeNaro is scheduled to speak of his time as chief and Keith Boucher of MakeIt Haverhill asks for $60,000 to pay for a full-time employee and some operating expenses at the nonprofit organization.

The Haverhill City Council meets at 7 p.m., remotely and in the Theodore A. Pelosi Jr. Council Chambers, Room 202 in City Hall, 4 Summer St. As a public service, 97.9 WHAV plans to carry the meeting live.

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