By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini barely beat back an attempt by some city councilorsto weaken Haverhill’s curbside trash collection rules.
Fiorentini initiated the matter by asking councilors at their meeting Tuesday to increase fines for repeat offenders — residents who put their trash out more than 24 hours before it is collected, leave barrels uncovered or leave out loose items, which are at risk for blowing into yards and streets.
Under the mayor’s proposal, the $50 fine for first-time offenders would remain as it’s been for many years, he said. But the mayor wanted to increase the penalty for second offenses to $100 and the penalty for third offenses to $300. He said some landlords would rather pay the $50 than follow the rules.
“There are a small number of the same landlords who we keep fining, but they keep violating the rules,” Fiorentini said. “It’s been a big problem in the Mount Washington area. The people who live up there have repeatedly asked me to do something about it.”
The mayor told councilors the city’s health inspectors, as a matter of practice but not policy, typically give first-time offenders a warning instead a $50 ticket. But he said that is not always the case.
“We use our discretion, just like a police officer who stops someone for speeding,” he said. “If it’s flagrant, we fine them. But if it’s someone who didn’t know the rules or has a good excuse, we give them a warning the first time.”
Hearing that, Councilor Michael Hart proposed changing the fine schedule to say that all first-time offenders can only be given a warning. His amendment was defeated four votes to four votes, however. It needed five votes to pass.
The mayor said he would have vetoed Hart’s amendment anyway, because it would have been “a step backward” in addressing the problem of trash strewn about inner city neighborhoods.
In favor of making the first offense a warning were councilors Hart, John Michitson, Michael McGonagle and Robert Scatamacchia. Against were councilors William Ryan, William Macek, Colin LePage and Tom Sullivan. Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien did not attend the meeting.
The mayor’s proposal to hike fines for repeat offenders then passed 8 to 0.
After the meeting, Fiorentini stressed that first-time offenders are “almost always” sent a warning letter that includes a copy of the trash ordinance.
“We are not targeting people who make honest mistakes,” the mayor said. “But we have to be vigilant in keeping our neighborhoods clean. When there’s trash all over the street or it’s been left out for days, it send the message that we don’t care about that neighborhood. And that’s when bad people move in and everyone’s property values go down.”