HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini said the city is in the best financial shape since 2008, but still must increase property taxes by the maximum allowed by law to balance the budget without decimating services.
The mayor’s $162.6 million spending proposal increases spending for city schools by 4.3 million, adds three police officers, makes improvements to city parks and playgrounds, opens the public library on Sunday for the first time in more than a decade, and adds new public works and recreation workers.
Overall, the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is up about 8.2 million, or 5.4 percent, compared to this year’s budget.
It relies on $3 million in additional school aid from the state, $2.4 million in special Hale debt relief from the Legislature and increasing property taxes by 21/2 percent, or $2.9 million. Increasing taxes more than that amount in a given year would require voters to approve a Proposition 21/2 override.
“We are all anxious to get to the day when we have enough reserves and sufficient financial strength that we no longer have to raise taxes even by 2.5 percent,” the mayor told councilors. “We are not there yet, but we are working in that direction.”
Without the tax increase, Fiorentini said the city would have to cut the school and police budgets, rather than increase them. There would also be no money to improve parks and playgrounds or bolster the city’s critical cash reserve, he said.
Fiorentini said it would also be much harder for state Rep. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, to convince his legislative colleagues to give Haverhill extra money to help pay the Hale Hospital debt if the city was not taxing up to the allowable limit. Dempsey, chairman of the budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee, is shepherding the Hale money through the Statehouse.
The House spending plan includes $2.4 million to help Haverhill pay next year’s $9.2 million debt payment on the old hospital, which the city sold 11 years ago at a $75 million loss.