Haverhill Spending Plan Stalls Over Firefighter Staffing, Youth Mental Health Programs

Haverhill City Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan. (WHAV News file photograph by Jay Saulnier.)

A city spending plan for the year beginning on July 1 made it to the table last night, but no further.

The stall came as councilors pondered measures to sink the budget as a means to force Mayor James J. Fiorentini to increase spending on the fire department and youth mental health.

Two sticking points kept councilors from taking action on the mayor’s $231.1 million spending plan. One issue is money to increase the minimum number of firefighters responding to an emergency. Haverhill Firefighters Local 1011 has long contended the matter is a safety issue. Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan said, while he supports the fire department’s request, he does not want to see the issue hold up the entire budget, particularly when there may be other funding sources possibly on the horizon.

“I sympathize with the firefighters. I understand what you are asking for, but I do agree that we’ve got a lot of balls in the air right now, including a Safer Grant and a study,” he said.

Firefighters union President Tim Carroll said the city is unlikely to receive the grant, known formally as Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants.

The other area of contention is the amount that should be allocated for youth mental health activities. The mayor’s budget provides $500,000 while councilors seek an additional $250,000.

“We need to put as much money into mental health as possible. However, the state legislature is fighting over funds for mental health throughout the Commonwealth. I can’t help but think that part of that money is going to be filtered to the cities and towns,” Sullivan said.

Councilor Melinda E. Barrett agreed, noting last year the $500,000 amount allotted, was expanded significantly by other revenue sources. “As items and people presented to the subcommittee, there were other department heads, either through CDBG money, through recreation, through the school department, we were able to fund far greater amounts than the 500 that we had available,” she said.

Much of the meeting was spent discussing with City Solicitor William D. Cox Jr. the legality of reducing the dollar amount of each line item in the budget to zero, in order to force a compromise on the two contested issues. Cox said, while it may be legal, he would advise against such a move.

“To zero-base every line item, and you would need to do that line-item by line-item, you have now placed the financial integrity of the city on the line. Our bond council and all those people who hold bonds for the city of Haverhill and who, in the future, will be looking will absolutely take that into account,” he said.

Ultimately, based on a motion by Councilor Michael S. McGonagle, the council decided to table any vote until the next council meeting in order to continue negotiating with the mayor and evaluating their options.

Although no agreement was reached, Council President Timothy J. Jordan expressed a degree of optimism about the proceedings. “I think we do have a pretty good budget here. I think there has been movements made, concessions made on both sides and I think we’re literally talking about two items that are holding it up,” he said.

Councilors are scheduled to meet again Tuesday, June 21, at 7 p.m.

Local 1011 Union President Timothy Carroll during an earlier appearance before the City Council. (WHAV News photograph.)

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