State Says Haverhill Has $11.5 Million Surplus; Mayor to Set Aside $500,000 for Water St. Fire Station

The Commonwealth says Haverhill’s surplus now stands at a little more than $11.5 million and, in light of the current controversy over fire stations, the mayor says he’ll use $500,000 now to repair the Water Street fire station. The remainder of the surplus—known as “free cash”—will be used to pay for an increased senior and veteran tax exemptions, add to the city’s “rainy day” fund and support next year’s budget. The state Department of Revenue certified the surplus last month and it comes just as the city’s property tax rates are to be set. In a statement to WHAV, Mayor James J. Fiorentini said, “We will save most of the free cash for next year’s budget and our reserves, but right now I intend to recommend that we allocate $90,000 to give low-income elderly and veterans a tax break and set aside $500,000 to make necessary repairs and improvements to the Water Street Fire Station.”

The city recorded a surplus of $12.4 million at this time last year. A little less than half of the amount was used to balance the current year’s city budget.

House Approves Ban on Flavored Tobacco, Vaping Products; Vargas Rev. Sets Aside 30% for Prevention

The Massachusetts House voted Wednesday to ban the sale of flavored vaping and tobacco products—including mint and menthol cigarettes—and to impose an excise tax on e-cigarettes. Rep. Danielle Gregoire, a main proponent of flavor ban legislation, said the vote marked “a chance to put an unprecedented nail in the coffin of Big Tobacco.” The bill passed on a vote of 126-31. Under a Rep. Andy Vargas amendment, the House adopted, 30 percent of the vape tax revenue — which lawmakers previously estimated at $10 million to $15 million per year — would be directed toward a trust fund that communities use for substance abuse prevention. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network said the bill would make Massachusetts the first state to restrict the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. House Speaker Robert DeLeo described Wednesday’s vote as “a nation-leading step...to modernize our laws that regulate tobacco.”

The action in the House came almost 16 months after Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law raising the tobacco-buying age from 18 to 21 in an effort to curb youth smoking.

New Northern Essex Culinary Arts Center to Prepare Students for Commercial Kitchen Jobs

Expansive views of the Merrimack River, nine kitchens, six classrooms and much high-tech greeted those getting a first look yesterday at Northern Essex Community College’s new downtown culinary arts center. Led by developer Salvatore N. Lupoli and Northern Essex President Lane Glenn, the media and guests toured “The Heights,” the 10-story mixed-use glass tower now under construction. Besides pointing out physical facilities, Culinary Arts and Hospitality Program Manager Denis Boucher discussed the philosophy behind the showcase kitchens. “We’re going to try to use as many local as we can, but we’re going to have to go a little bit further out as we see that we can’t get product from the local farmers,” he said,

Boucher previously taught nine and a half years at New England Culinary Institute, Vermont, founding father of the Vermont Fresh Network which connected farms to restaurateurs and chefs. Northern Essex will occupy two floors of the building with one floor housing classrooms, computer lab, shared conference room and the college’s administration of the MassHire job training and employment office.

Haverhill Neighbor Asks City to Resolve Issues Behind Gang Gun Violence; Police Cite New Challenges

Councilors last night endorsed a resident’s plan to create an anti-gun violence task force and learned of the police department’s latest challenges, including gangs’ recruitment of juveniles. Joanna Dix, who conceived of the task force, said she wants to look at issues underlying the gun violence, including economic, social and political disadvantages faced by neighbors in the two city trouble spots. “I really want a meeting that is data strong. I kind of want to know where we’ve been and where we are now as far as the gun violence in the neighborhoods. Also, I want to really start the discussion about kind of lifting up the people in the Mount Washington neighborhood (and) the lower Acre where the gun violence is happening,” Dix told councilors.

Haverhill Fire Chief Calls Some Stations ‘Deplorable;’ Council Asks for Workshop with Mayor

Haverhill councilors want an assessment of all of the city’s fire stations and a plan to repair or replace them. Members last night asked for a rare workshop-style conference with Mayor James J. Fiorentini next week after hearing testimony from the fire chief about “crisis management” he faces at most fire stations. Chief William F. Laliberty backed recent complaints of union members, saying he didn’t receive an estimated $125,000 he requested to study what stations should be repaired or replaced. “Our unmanned stations are in deplorable condition, even worse than the living quarters that we have,” he said. Council Vice President Thomas J. Sullivan said he toured the Water Street station recently.

Haverhill Police Among Those Mourning Loss of Methuen Native Baldera; Brother is Haverhill Officer

Haverhill Police are among those mourning the loss of 32-year-old Methuen native Ryan A. Baldera, the restaurant general manager who died last Thursday while trying to protect employees and patrons from a toxic cleaning chemical spill. Baldera, of Lawrence, is the brother of Haverhill Patrolman Cory Baldera. He died after being overcome by two cleaning chemicals that spilled and mixed at Buffalo Wild Wings in Burlington. Thirteen others, including restaurant employees and patrons, were also reportedly hospitalized. “Ryan was a beloved husband, father, son, brother, and cherished uncle, nephew, and son-in-law, to his close-knit family and friends,” a family statement read.

Brigadier Gen. Jack Hammond in Methuen for Launch of First Roundtable on Veteran Suicide

The first in a series of roundtable discussions aimed at preventing veteran suicides is taking place today in Methuen. Congresswoman Lori Trahan, a member of the House Armed Services Committee; state Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, House chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs; and retired Brigadier Gen. Jack Hammond of Home Base planned to meet with elected leaders, public safety officials, clinical providers and veterans stakeholders this morning to discuss the rollout of Home Base’s Statewide Suicide Prevention Campaign. In a statement, Hammond said, “Each day we lose more than 20 American Veterans to suicide—one each hour. Sadly, 7,000 service members have been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan, but more than 100,000 veterans have died by suicide since Sept. 11, 2001.”

Home Base, a Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital program, received state funding to provide this life-saving training to communities across the Commonwealth.

Northern Essex Prepares for January Downtown Culinary Arts and Hospitality Move-In

Work is progressing so fast on downtown developer Salvatore N. Lupoli’s 10-story “Heights” mixed-use complex that Northern Essex Community College is planning on moving in during January. Northern Essex President Lane Glenn, Lupoli and the college’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Program Manager Denis Boucher plan a walk-though the Merrimack Street site tomorrow. Two floors are dedicated to Northern Essex’s culinary and hospitality programs.

According to the college, wall studs are in place; plumbing, gas lines and electrical wires are roughed in; and wiring for audiovisual components throughout the space is underway. Next steps include installing the kitchen hood/fire suppression system, drywall and then equipment installation and finishing details. Plans call for classrooms, laboratories and a teaching kitchen.