Council and Mayor Agree on Final Haverhill Budget Bringing Tax, Water, Sewer Rate Increases

Haverhill City Council President Thomas J. Sullivan. (WHAV News photograph.)

Haverhill city councilors last night approved city government’s $262 million spending plan plus water and sewer expenses for the year starting July 1.

The average single-family homeowner should expect a $444 increase in property taxes, roughly double previous hikes, as WHAV previously reported. Water rates will also increase by 17% and wastewater by 11%, driven by increased environmental quality standards.

“It is not where we all want to be, but it is where we find ourselves, and I think this is the step we have to take to correct that deficit we have in free cash and funding ongoing items with free cash,” Mayor Melinda E. Barrett said.

Council President Thomas J. Sullivan thanked the mayor for her transparency during the drafting process. “New mayor, new mood,” he declared, continuing, “and it was very much appreciated by all of us, and I think that’s why we’re here on June 10, able to pass this budget, and not be scrambling at the end of the month to do it.”

The 2022 and 2021 budget votes were contentious and came late in the month. Last year’s went more smoothly, with one councilor calling it “the most pleasant of budget seasons” at the time.

Any money left unused at the end of the fiscal year becomes “free cash,” a reserve the previous administration overused, according to Barrett’s draft budget, as WHAV previously reported. Instead of raising taxes, the current year’s spending relied on a record $6.2 million from the pot, a strategy that leads to “structural deficit,” according to the mayor’s office.

Councilors praised Barrett for no longer “kicking the can down the road” at the June 1 final budget review. This coming year, the city also contends with labor contract settlements and the $152 million Dr. Albert B. Consentino School building project.

Going forward, Councilor John A. Michitson suggested the city “get a handle on” residential growth with an eye on the school population and ensure good jobs for its residents, particularly its current students. In 2023, the state reported 70% are “high needs,” which includes those with disabilities, learning English and from low-income families.

He separated the previous 23 years into three periods. The first, 2001 to 2012, “was marked by keeping the city afloat and some progress was made, limited severely by minimal funding for services and maintenance.” The government grappled with former city-owned Hale Hospital becoming insolvent in 2001, as well as the 2008 financial crisis. From 2012 to 2024, he said the city saw an increase in money from the state, which helped bolster its schools.

He added, “But a long list of needs remains, including two new school facilities and a new fire station,” he added. “During this time $37.5 million dollars was returned to the taxpayers. If only half this funding was used, by either paying down the Hale debt and/or saving the funding in a lockbox for future needs, we would not be boxed in today.”

Last night’s meeting, he proclaimed, brought the beginning of something new.

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