Haverhill Council Adds Input to $37.5 Million Federal Aid Spending Plan; Public Also Gets Review Chance

HVAC work at Haverhill Public Schools in 2020. (Courtesy photograph.)

The Haverhill City Council added its input Tuesday to preliminary plans for spending $37.5 million in federal COVID-19 aid—one of the final steps required before the public weighs in one more time

That figure represents Haverhill’s portion of $1.9 trillion from the American Rescue Plan Act—or ARPA—to be used for specific purposes, primarily relating to financial needs resulting from the pandemic. A final plan for spending the money must be completed by the end of next year. Mayor James J. Fiorentini said all city departments heads and the public were asked for ideas on how the money could be spent and received no shortage of responses.

“We were not able to do all of the things we wanted to do. We had $410 million in requests. So, what we tried to do is prioritizes things that would last a lifetime because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” the mayor explained.

Desi Navarro of Anser Advisory Consultants told councilors his group took the suggestions, breaking them into seven categories.

“The big five are things like public health expenditures, addressing negative economic impacts, replacing public sector revenues, the fourth there is premium pay for eligible workers, the fifth category there is infrastructure improvements,” he said.

Two other categories are administrative needs and public sector capacity. Navarro said, from that standpoint, his firm looked at all of the projects submitted and ranked them by how likely they were to receive ARPA eligibility approval. The projects were also ranked by those requiring immediate attention and those that could be put off in the short term. The cost of each project was also considered.

Within those categories, more than $10 million was earmarked for infrastructure improvements such as street paving and replacement of the Rosemont Bridge. Another $7.8 million would go to items such as affordable housing and childcare and education. Another $6.7 million would go to water treatment and upgrades and just under $4 million towards mental health and other like programs.

Adding a bit of confusion to the discussion is that about $7 million was already spent, including about $80,000 in emergency repairs for the Herbert H. Goecke Jr. Memorial Parking Deck. The Merrimack Street garage and surrounding land is to be sold to developer Salvatore N. Lupoli for redevelopment.

Councilors were encouraged to add input to the spending plan to which John A. Michitson identified a project he thought worthy of inclusion.

“Make-It-Haverhill, HP3, Haverhill Promise, Community Action and the Haverhill Public Schools are working together to develop and educational ecosystem that stretches from early childhood to adult workforce,” he said.

Council President Timothy J. Jordan also endorsed Michitson’s ideas, noting that MakeIt Haverhill—which conducts job training and placement—in particular has been a strong asset to the community.

Navarro finished by emphasizing there was a degree of flexibility in the plan so should a project be cancelled for one reason or another, another project can take its place.

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