EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 4, 2013

Mayor picks key date for speech

State of City address set for Feb. 26

By Shawn Regan
sregan@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — This could be the most interesting State of the City speech in some time.

Mayor James Fiorentini said he will deliver the annual update on the city during City Council’s Feb. 26 meeting at City Hall.

UMass-Lowell officials have said they will identify the property for the satellite campus in downtown Haverhill on Feb. 25.

The university announced last week that two property owners are in the running to host the mini-campus, but school officials have declined to identify the bidders or the properties under consideration.

At a recent City Council meeting, one councilor said the selection process has been too secretive and lacks local input. Other councilors said they trust the process and are confident it will be successful.

Councilor Thomas Sullivan said he believes the mayor intends to reveal more details about the college’s search for a downtown property at the State of the City speech.

If that’s the plan, Fiorentini isn’t saying.

“It is a coincidence,” the mayor said of the timing. “The speech will not focus around UMass-Lowell. I have not decided yet if it will be a portion of the speech or not.”

Fiorentini — who won election to a modern Haverhill record fifth two-year term last year — said his speech will be titled “A Vision for Tomorrow.” The mayor said his message will focus on city finances, economic development and efforts to attract young people to Haverhill.

“There is a spirit of optimism about the city’s future,” Fiorentini said. “Haverhill’s population is going up and that’s a good thing. Young people are staying here and moving back.”

A decade ago, the mayor said Haverhill High graduates couldn’t wait to leave the city.

“Young people are moving here because it’s affordable and for the downtown scene,” he said. “But to keep them here, we need to focus on quality of life issues like public education and affordability. Our population is growing, but the challenge is can we sustain it.”

Fiorentini said the city ended last year with a budget surplus for the first time in many years. Most of the surplus was stashed away as cash reserves, he said.

“Whether we have another surplus depends on the level of services we want,” the mayor said. “Our level of service isn’t what I want, but we have to be careful about what we spend.”

Overall, the mayor said the city’s workforce is down 26 percent since he took office nine years ago.

“Our spending stays about the same every year except in areas we can’t control,” he said. Those areas the city can’t control, the mayor said, include health insurance, pensions and school spending, which by law increases annually, he said.

Fiorentini has given a State of the City speech annually except last year. In 2011, he announced the coming of two new businesses to Haverhill — Swix Sport USA, a worldwide manufacturer of ski equipment and clothing, and a Boston Chowda restaurant downtown. Executives from Swix Sport and two other companies — Magellan Aerospace and Southwick Clothing — announced plans to add jobs at their Haverhill locations during the mayor’s speech.

Fiorentini also highlighted efforts to revive downtown with restaurants and upscale residential complexes, push through health care changes for city workers that he said has saved the city $11 million since he took office in 2004, and reduce sick leave use by city workers.

The mayor also announced several new programs and challenged the School Committee and school unions adopt the same health care changes that city workers had agreed to. The schools have since adopted many of the health care reforms.

Fiorentini also asked the City Council and School Committee for their support for a new program he planned to create to raise money to repair aging and deteriorated schools by selling unused school buildings and property. He said the fund was needed to pay the city’s share of state and federal grants that could be used to replace school roofs, boilers, lighting systems and windows. That project led to $5 million in state-subsidized repairs to four city schools.