By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini and the City Council went on a little end-of-the-fiscal-year spending spree this week.
The council approved $356,320 worth of spending for a variety of goods and projects at Tuesday’s council meeting, most of it to pay for veteran benefits and to make the downtown prettier and safer.
Most of the money is coming from $2.5 million in so-called “free cash.” Free cash is money left over from the prior year’s budget that cities and towns are free to spend once it is certified by the state. The mayor told councilors that he intends to put what’s left in the reserve account — a little more than $2.1 million — toward next year’s budget.
Fiorentini has said he will unveil his proposed spending plan for the new fiscal year that starts July 1 by the end of this month. The council, which can cut spending but cannot add to the budget, will begin its formal review of the spending proposal soon after.
Of the spending approved Tuesday, $325,000 is to pay monthly housing and other benefits to 135 military veterans who live in Haverhill. The state eventually reimburses cities and towns 75 percent of the cost of the veteran benefits, but the mayor said the state is behind in providing those reimbursements.
The new spending also includes: $8,000 to apply a dust-controlling additive to playing fields at Riverside Park; $10,500 for medical examinations for city workers; $10,000 for Highway Department overtime for workers to trim and cut trees on Water Street to open views of the Merrimack River; $5,920 for downtown police foot patrols on Friday nights; $2,000 for overtime for compliance inspectors to work weekends; and $900 for worker training.
The council also approved $6,808 from downtown parking fees to buy and hang flowers throughout downtown. Fiorentini said the flora includes a mix of 60 hanging baskets and potted flowers that will be planted in 36 tree baskets recently installed on downtown sidewalks.
The mayor said the flowers are a combination of flowering cherries and lilacs, and that some have already been hung and planted thanks to a donation from Home Depot.