Mayor and Council Agree on Haverhill Budget; Fire Dept. Gets Four-Man Crews at Central Station

Members of the Haverhill Fire and Police Department Honor Guards at a 9/11 remembrance at the Water Street fire station. (WHAV News file photograph)

With one councilor referring to it as “the most pleasant of budget seasons,” the Haverhill City Council last night approved the city’s budget for the year that begins July 1.

The budget deal appears to guarantee four-man crews at the Water Street central fire station. Last year’s increase from three to four at the High Street station had been cited as proof of concept. City Clerk Kaitlin M. Wright went on to list a number of appropriation increases and decreases made in the record-setting budget of just under $236 million. Some of the largest of those increases involved the Haverhill public school budget, money for paving and sidewalks and an increase in the firefighters. The total does not include water and sewer division spending which is paid by ratepayers.

Thanking the council members for meeting and working with him, Mayor James J. Fiorentini called the new budget one that will invest in Haverhill’s forward motion.

“The budget and the budget amendments reflect my point of view that with the Hale debt now gone, or at least parts of it are gone, with the Consentino payments not starting yet, this is the time to invest in our city, in our schools and, most importantly, I think, in our infrastructure,” he said.

While lauding this budget for meeting many of Haverhill’s needs, the mayor cautioned some of the income streams the city has enjoyed will not continue to flow unabated.

“I would encourage for future budgets to make some cuts, some reasonable cuts, and then work with whoever is mayor to reallocate the money the way that you think the priorities should go. Just asking for more money is not sustainable in the future,” he argued.

One item that remains a sticking point is the need, in the short term, for more classroom space. Councilor Michael S. McGonagle asked the mayor to find a way to come up with the $3 million needed for modular classrooms at John Greenleaf Whittier School to fill in the gap until a new building becomes a reality. The mayor, nearly conceding the portable classrooms are the only viable solution, responded he would come up with some kind of proposal by Labor Day.

While budget sessions in previous years have left participants figuratively scratched and bruised, Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan praised all parties for their willingness to work together this year.

“Mayor, I want to thank you for the budget. This is probably at least the best budget process I’ve experienced in my five terms. Everybody worked together this time. So, I just want to let you know I do appreciate everything you’ve gone through,” he said.

Councilors ultimately approved the budget by a unanimous vote.

Although not part of the budget, the council also approved two other financial items. The first is an increase in salary to $150,000 annually for the next mayor. Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua suggested the salary be increased to $125,000 for the first two years before bumping it up another $25,000 after that. However, the council voted 8-1 to go with the full amount immediately instead with Bevilacqua as the only dissenting vote.

The council also voted to increase the salaries paid to school committee members by 50%. Committee members now receive $8,000 per year for their service. They now will see an additional $4,000 per year in their paychecks.

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