Haverhill City Council Approves City Spending Plan by 6-3 Over Objections of Firefighters

Haverhill Fire Chief Robert O’Brien told councilors in May he is not “getting everything I want” in the fire department budget. Firefighter Ryan Fairbanks is seated behind the chief. (WHAV News photograph.)

After several weeks of sometimes tempestuous negotiations, the Haverhill City Council last night passed 6-3 a spending plan for the year beginning July 1, albeit with a number of changes to the mayor’s original budget proposal.

Those amendments include a $742,000 school department budget increase, $50,000 for sidewalk repairs and an agreement to add $250,000 more for youth mental health programs. The latter issue has been a sticking point in negotiations with the mayor originally offering $500,000 and the Council requesting $750,000. Speaking before the vote, Mayor James J. Fiorentini said this spending plan, with all its compromises, is a solid plan for the upcoming year.

“This is a great budget for our city. It increases funding for public education to record amounts. It increases funding for the police department, extra money for sidewalk improvement and four new highway workers to make their job easier. This budget also calls for increases in the fire department,” the mayor said.

For its part, Haverhill Firefighters Local 1011, which has long been at odds with Fiorentini over what they call a dangerously low budget for a city undergoing significant growth, said this budget comes nowhere close to meeting needs. Voicing his concerns at last night’s meeting was Haverhill Firefighter Ryan Fairbanks.

“There’s not a fire that we have in this city that we are equipped enough, with the staffing we have on-hand, to appropriately fight. We rely solely on mutual aid, which again, the nearest ladder is 14 minutes away. We are the lowest staffed original gateway community in the entire state. Other towns are looking at Haverhill as Haverhill’s got this much less than we have so maybe we can go without. They’re using us as the bottom of the barrel standard,” he argued.

Fairbanks said the union has been asking the Council for more staffing for the past three years, but is always told to come back at budget time. He said the problem keeps being put off for another year.

The mayor, however, said he will not be pressured into making changes without researching the issue and has hired an outside company to evaluate the city fire department’s needs and develop a plan for addressing them.

While admitting the budget is not completely satisfying, councilors called it a very good plan and voted unanimously to adopt the compromises. The vote to accept the budget itself, however, was approved only by a 6-3 vote with President Timothy J. Jordan, Vice President John A. Michitson and Councilor Melissa Lewandowski voting against due to it not sufficiently meeting the needs of the fire department.

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