Haverhill Council Considers Transfer from Disputed ‘Impact Fee’ Account to Pay for Student Surveys

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Haverhill city councilors have an opportunity tonight to approve moving money to pay for an analysis of surveys of young people’s risk behaviors.

Councilors consider two requests from Mayor James J. Fiorentini to transfer about $171,000 from the city’s “Cannabis Local Impact Fees Escrow” account as well as nearly $42,000 from the “Youth Activities/Mental Health Stabilization Fund.” The proposals come even as there is a lawsuit and debate over whether adult-use cannabis retailers have presented any adverse impacts. Concurrent with the money shuffle, the mayor also named a nine-member “Youth Activities and Mental Health Program Advisory Committee.”

The mayor said the only issue on his mind is completing the analysis of existing surveys so that the city may qualify for a Drug Free America grant.

“Mostly what we’re trying to do is, first of all, figure out what the impact is of drugs. Secondly, to gear ourselves up to put in for the grant again,” he said.

School physician Dr. John L. Maddox asked councilors earlier this month to pay for analyses of four surveys dating back to 2013. The results become the basis for implementing a strategy to reduce youth substance abuse.

Maddox and Councilor Melinda E. Barrett noted several cannabis shops pledged during local permitting hearings to contribute to a school-based program. In actuality, only Full Harvest Moonz and CNA Stores agreed to the payments as a condition of receiving permits to operate. Fiorentini confirmed for WHAV Monday the city has notified the retailers the amount is strictly voluntary. Fiorentini said his administration adopted that stance after looking at limitations of what the city may request under state law.

In the order before the City Council, the administration notes the roughly $171,000 comes from “impacts” such as a $14,000 charge assigned to “Staff time to plan and administer an annual survey of high school students to explore risky behaviors, 33% related to impact of marijuana legalization, availability and use.” The remainder of the money comes from “one-time” costs spread across the schools and various other city departments.

James Borghesani, a consultant for Stem in Haverhill and other cannabis shops across the state, takes issue with the assessment. He explained that while communities may spend a 3% excise tax on anything they wish, the city errs when it calls for money from the impact account.

“Then, there is just a general impact fee that is supposed to be verified by the city producing evidence of actual impact,” he explained.

Stem, 124 Washington St., filed suit against the city last year in Essex County Superior Court. It said, while it is willing to pay, it should not pay “community impact” fees until or unless the city proves there is an added cost to hosting cannabis businesses.

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

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