By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — City Council approved the mayor's request last night to spend $148,000 in spare cash to repair potholes, take property tax scofflaws to court and finish designing a rail trail recreational pathway along the Merrimack River in Bradford.
Mayor James Fiorentini said the state Department of Revenue recently certified the city's 2014 free cash at $2.6 million. The $148,000 will come from that money — $10,000 for pothole patching, $38,000 for the rail trail and $100,000 for legal expenses related to taking people who haven't paid their property taxes to court.
Free cash, which is money left over from the prior fiscal year budget, must be certified by the state before it can be used. The mayor said most of the money in the free cash account will be carried over to help pay for next year's budget.
Councilors approved all three expenditures unanimously, but were especially eager for the mayor to do something about the state of the city's pothole-laden roads.
"I'm glad we are trying to do something about the terrible condition of Haverhill's streets," Councilor William Ryan. "Motor vehicles are being damaged every day."
Councilors also made a point to support the mayor's plan to buy a machine that heats up asphalt filling — called a "hot box" — which allows potholes to be fixed in cold weather.
The city has been "cold patching" some of the worst potholes, but without heat the patches often deteriorate quickly.
Fiorentini said he is hopeful the state will allow the city to use state Chapter 90 roadway paving money to buy the machine, rather than using local taxpayer money. He said he hopes to buy it in spring.
The rail trail design and legal money were approved without comment or discussion.
The best way to collect back taxes is to bring a petition to land court for permission to seize the properties unless the owners pay up, the mayor said.
"We do not desire to own a single home or parcel of land," Fiorentini said in a letter to councilors. "It is our hope that by going to land court, everyone who is delinquent on their taxes will pay them. We have a duty that we owe to the taxpayers who pay their taxes to make certain that everyone pays. Unfortunately, we have a large number of people who are delinquent who have not responded to our late notices."
The final expenditure approved last night is for the rail trail the city is developing on the Bradford side of the Merrimack River, across from downtown.
"We are at a critical point with the rail trail if we are going to meet the deadline imposed by the state to begin construction next year," the mayor said in justifying the need for the money right away.