HAVERHILL — City Councilors want to know what the police chief and other city department heads really need to improve services for residents this year, not just what Mayor James Fiorentini says he can afford to give them.
Alan DeNaro, the city’s police chief and public safety commissioner, told councilors the mayor has directed all department heads to submit budgets with spending increases limited to 1.5 percent for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
DeNaro told councilors his “real” police spending proposal includes a 10.5 percent increase, but the mayor told him that anything above a 1.5 percent increase should be detailed in a separate letter. Councilors typically don’t see the “side letter,” the chief said.
“Our budget is cleaned and sanitized by the time you get it,” DeNaro told councilors recently. “The mayor doesn’t want us to submit budgets that he’s only going to cut. ...I understand there’s only so much money and that the mayor isn’t going to close the library or lay off firefighters to add more police officers. But when everyone says we need to reduce crime, we need more officers to do that.”
Councilors said hiring more police officers is a top priority for them in this year’s budget. They said lowering the crime rate is critical to saving the city’s reputation in the wake of recent high-profile and gang-related violent crimes, and the FBI’s recent ranking that Haverhill is the 15th most dangerous city in Massachusetts. That is based on 2012 violent crime statistics, the most recent available.
The analysis showed the city was more dangerous in 2012 than in the previous year, when Haverhill ranked 22nd on the list.
Last night, the council voted 9 to 0 to send a letter to Fiorentini asking that he provide councilors with the “side letters” that DeNaro and other departments have been including with their spending pitches.