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June 18, 2013

Councilor: Spend 'hidden' money on school repairs

Mayor, school officials accused of questionable budgeting

HAVERHILL — City councilors are pushing Mayor James Fiorentini to spend $200,000 in “hidden money” to repair to five schools and some aging and neglected fire stations.

During a budget review meeting last week, City Councilor Colin LePage noticed the mayor put only $100,000 in projected “miscellaneous” revenue in next year’s spending plan. The miscellaneous revenue account mostly includes money the city receives annually from a company called Aggregate Industries to cap the old city landfill and money the city generates by auctioning off old equipment and other non-real estate assets.

The miscellaneous account took in $330,00 last year and $395,000 in 2011 — much more than the $100,000 set aside in the mayor’s budget for the new fiscal year that begins July 1.

When the discrepancy was pointed out, Fiorentini increased the landfill revenue projection by $200,000 and said he would use the additional money to increase his capital proposal for repairing and maintaining city buildings and other property to $900,000.

“The council is only given a few weeks to review the mayor’s budget and I’m not a budget expert, but this is just one place I was able to find what looks like hidden money,” LePage said, suggesting there could be other revenue areas that are underestimated in Fiorentini’s spending plan.

“I got $200,000 with one comment,” LePage said. “Who knows what else is in there.”

Several councilors said they believe under-reporting revenue and “fuzzy math” is rampant in the school budget.

“I believe money is being moved around from one line item to another in the school budget and spent on whatever they want, and no one ever knows,” Councilor Michael McGonagle said.

Despite those concerns, Councilor John Michitson said he expects to propose an amendment to the city budget tonight that would dedicate several hundred thousand dollars to make repairs at five school buildings.

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