Haverhill Councilors Pressure Mayor to Detail Mental Health Program Specifics and Payments

Haverhill City Councilor Melissa J. Lewandowski. (Courtesy photograph.)

The Haverhill City Council again asked Mayor James J. Fiorentini Tuesday night to come up with a strategy for addressing local mental health issues, including how payments will be made for services.

Haverhill City Councilor John A. Michitson. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Council Vice President John A. Michitson and Councilor Melissa J. Lewandowski placed the matter on the agenda. Lewandowski asked about the needs of Haverhill public school students, what school officials have already done to meet those needs and what new efforts, if any, are underway. In response, Haverhill School Physician Dr. John L. Maddox first addressed the issue of paying for necessary programs, telling councilors the money is available.

“There appears to be about $3.7 million to invest. There is $810,000 in cannabis impact fees. There’s $1.7 million in cannabis excise tax already the city has received. There’s $500,000 in a youth services account that was designated by this Council for use in this year. There’s $250,000 that was also put into a mental health account. So, not even getting into ARPA money, $3.7 million,” he explained.

Maddox said the total also includes an additional $436,000 in the National Opioid settlement fund.

He said some of the projects already underway include recovery high schools, school-based diversion programs that provide treatment in lieu of suspension and other early identification programs which have cost the school department about $600,000 to date. He said none of those costs have been reimbursed from any of the previously mentioned funds and asked that the money be released as soon as possible. He also asked the city to make clear the process for agencies doing work in these areas to be reimbursed.

Councilors agreed and Michitson proposed a multi-faceted motion asking the mayor to come up with a plan within a month.

“How are we going to get a director? What’s the plan for applying for a drug-free community grant? A $350,000 reimbursement to the schools and addressing the $500,000 for youth services and $250,000 for mental health, and the City Council would like a monthly update on the funding that’s been allocated and provide what the results have been so far,” he said.

Prior to voting on the motion, the mayor’s newly appointed Deputy Chief of Staff and former City Councilor William J. Macek told his former colleagues the mayor is in the process of addressing a number of the issues raised and hopes to have specifics by the Council’s Feb.7 meeting.

Councilors approved the motion by a vote of 8-0 with councilor Michael S. McGonagle absent.

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