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June 19, 2013

Councilors OK $154.9M city budget

Will debate in August where to spend $900K in building repairs

HAVERHILL — City Council unanimously passed Mayor James Fiorentini’s $154.9 million budget last night.

The spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 adds three more police officers, makes improvements to 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.

It also socks $1 million away in a city reserve account for unexpected expenses and another $200,000 in a school reserve in case the school budget runs over. A total of $900,000 is earmarked in the plan to make unspecified repairs to city buildings and other public property.

The city budget, which the mayor said is up about $8.2 million or 5.4 percent, relies on increasing property taxes by the 21/2 percent yearly legal limit, $3 million in additional school aid and $2.4 million from the Legislature toward Haverhill’s annual debt on the formerly city-owned Hale Hospital.

The plan also counts on $78,000 from increasing the local hotel tax by 2 percent — a proposal the council has yet to approve.

Councilors approved the budget in five separate votes — the main budget, the city and school reserves and funding for the water and sewer departments. Each vote was quick and without comment.

During their review earlier this month, councilors pushed the mayor to spend more on repairing and maintaining city property, specifically schools and the worst of several aging and neglected fire houses.

Councilor John Michitson, who has developed a plan to make repairs to five city schools, said Fiorentini increased his capital spending plan by $200,000 to accommodate the school projects. Councilor Michael Hart said the mayor has also committed to making repairs to the Water Street and 16th Avenue fire stations.

Fiorentini said he will identify where exactly he wants to spend the $900,000 in capital work in August.

“My budget is lean, that’s why City Council hasn’t cut it in seven years,” Fiorentini told councilors after they passed his spending plan. “And it’s transparent. Everything is on the Internet.”

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