By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — It's a familiar lament come budget time.
Mayor James Fiorentini typically begins the city's budget review process by estimating the coming fiscal year's deficit in the $2 to $3 million range, which is often referred to as Haverhill's structural — or long-term and recurring — deficit.
At last night's City Council meeting, Councilor John Michitson told his colleagues he wants more regular updates from the mayor about what he is doing to eliminate the annual shortfall. He also offered ideas to reduce it.
"Ramping up economic activity, especially in the industrial parks, is the lowest hanging fruit," Michitson said of how to reduce the deficit. "We need to determine what the opportunity is for broadening the commercial tax base by filling empty space and developing sites for new construction."
Michitson pointed to an emerging business "incubator" center downtown, a new proposal by the mayor to spur mixed-use and market-rate housing downtown and along the Merrimack River, and the redevelopment of the former Haverhill Paperboard site in Bradford. He also said the city needs to do a better job taking care of buildings and other infrastructure with annual maintenance to avoid more costly repairs down the line.
Michitson also promoted an upcoming conference at Northern Essex Community College that is designed to bring new companies and economic development to the city and area.
The March 20 "Trailblazing the Merrimack Valley Open Innovation Cluster Conference" aims to attract businesses to the area by promoting new ways companies are conducting research and development. Fiorentini, who is one of several speakers scheduled to speak at the conference, said he intends to discuss plans to create an "innovation district" in Haverhill.
Michitson said he believes Haverhill could trim at least $1 million off its structural deficit next year by growing the commercial tax base. The mayor, who attended last night's council meeting, declined to discuss next year's spending plan or speculate whether the city will once again face a deficit going into the budget process. That process usually begins sometime in spring and culminates with passage of a new spending plan by July 1.