City Council Narrowly Approves Haverhill Budget After Barrett Stays with Compromise She Negotiated

Haverhill City Councilor Melinda E. Barrett. (WHAV News photograph by Jay Saulnier.)

The City of Haverhill has a new budget for the year that begins tomorrow after a city councilor stayed with a compromise she helped negotiate and reversed her vote in favor of Mayor James J. Fiorentini’s $217 million spending plan.

City Council President Melinda E. Barrett last week voted with the majority against the proposed budget because of a disagreement over the creation of a special fund for mental health and youth recreation. Councilors then, by a vote of 5-4, favored creating a special dedicated account comprising all annual “local option” taxes the city is allowed to collect from cannabis retailers. The mayor, on the other hand, originally committed to $358,000 for one year.

Barrett and the mayor met privately on Friday, however, and worked out a plan where the mayor guaranteed $500,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act money for one year to pay for the program.

Councilors last night still backed a dedicated account, approving one by a 5-4 margin with Barrett and Councilors Joseph J. Bevilacqua, Thomas J. Sullivan, Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien and William J. Macek in favor. Vice President Colin F. LePage and Councilors Timothy J. Jordan, John A. Michitson and Michael S. McGonagle were opposed because it would be paid for by disputed cannabis “impact fees” that might never be collected. Those councilors, instead, asked that noncontroversial local option taxes on cannabis shops be earmarked for mental health and youth recreation. A related vote to place impact fees in the account failed.

The Council’s discussions were not without some tension as when Jordan explained why he did not support the budget last week while Bevilacqua challenged his intent.

“I did not vote against anything that was in the budget. I voted down the budget because it didn’t do enough for the citizens I represent,” Jordan said, while Bevilacqua argued, “When you vote against the budget, you can say why you voted against it, but you, in fact, voted against the people of the City of Haverhill.”

Following the vote, the mayor thanked the five councilors who supported his plan.

“Just want to thank the Council for voting for the budget and moving us forward. I want to particularly thank the Councilors Joe Bevilacqua, Tom Sullivan, Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien and Bill Macek for working with me last week and I want to thank you Council President Barrett for coming in to see me and working in a cordial manner in order to resolve our differences. That’s how government should work,” Fiorentini said.

The mayor went on to say the $217 million budget will provide record funding of $108 million for Haverhill public schools, provide money for improving infrastructure, answer the interim police chief’s request for at least one trained mental health clinician immediately to work with local police and create a new Public Health Department for the city.

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