Haverhill Plans Special Election Next Year to Ask Voters to Consider How to Pay for Consentino School

Architect’s rendering of planned new Dr. Albert B. Consentino School.

Haverhill plans a special election in May of next year giving Haverhill residents an opportunity to vote on how to pay for a new Dr. Albert B. Consentino School.

Following an night of discussion, the Haverhill City Council voted last night to hold the vote—an alternative to Mayor James J. Fiorentini’s plan to pay for the $160 million replacement school out of ordinary revenues.

A number of residents attended last night’s meeting, stating their beliefs taxpayers should be allowed to vote on how that money should be raised. One of them, Nate Hartwell, a parent of three school-age children, expressed it this way.

“This is going to impact the lives of everyone in this city. We need flexibility. We need structure within the budget to allow us to address the needs going forward. I believe that a debt exclusion provides additional flexibility that’s going to help with that but with such a complex issue, something that is going to impact so many lives, it really should be put to a vote,” he said.

Under state law, a city may not increase taxes by more than 2.5% over the previous year without either an override of a debt exclusion. An override, once approved, becomes permanent while a debt exclusion raises money for a specific project and is eliminated when the project is paid off.

For his part, Fiorentini has been outspoken against the idea of a debt exclusion and referring to himself as the skunk at a lawn party, and did so again on Tuesday.

“I don’t think you should put a debt exclusion on the ballot. Our long-term plan has always been to use the retiring Hale debt for the Consentino School and then to do with the debt exclusion for the next school down the line, which would be the J.G. Whittier School. Putting this on the ballot is going to make it more difficult to pass future projects,” he said.

The mayor said the city has the wherewithal to pay for the Consentino School without a debt exclusion using the retired Hale Hospital debt and out of the city’s levy reserve.

Adding to the complexity of the issue Council Vice President John A. Michitson pointed out this is not the only project of this magnitude in the pipeline, pointing to Haverhill’s obligation to a new Whittier Regional Vocational Technical School and a new J.G. Whittier School are also looming in the near future.

Ultimately, councilors voted 6-3 to hold a ballot question vote next May 2, with Council President Timothy J. Jordan and Councilors Michitson, Melinda E. Barrett, Thomas J. Sullivan Melissa J. Lewandowski and Michael S. McGonagle in favor while councilors Joseph J. Bevilacqua, Catherine P. Rogers and Shaun P. Toohey were opposed.

The Council also voted unanimously to a motion by Sullivan to a letter to the state house, state legislators, Gov. Charlie Baker and Gov.-elect Maura Healey asking them to reinstate the previous reimbursement rate of 78% for school building projects rather than the 44% now covered by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

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