By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — City Council OK'd the blizzard's bill last night.
At Mayor James Fiorentini's request, the council declared a health and safety emergency, allowing the mayor to access reserve cash to pay $500,000 in cleanup costs from last weekend's historic snow storm.
The mayor said the city has spent $350,000 since the storm began Friday and that he expects to spend another $150,000 over the next few days in cleanup efforts. The blizzard ranked as the fifth-largest in modern Massachusetts history.
Haverhill had already depleted most of its $478,000 regular snow and ice budget prior to the start of the two-day storm, Fiorentini said. Last night's council vote allows the mayor to access another $650,000 in a reserve cash put aside in case of an overrun. As a result, the city will have about $150,000 left for the rest of winter. If the city goes over again, it will have to make up the overrun in next year's budget, the mayor said.
Fiorentini told councilors he is satisfied with the city's response to the storm. He also briefed them on several new strategies that he said worked well. They included automatic calls to residents with land-based phone lines warning them to move their vehicles from city streets or risk being towed. He credited residents for heeding the warning, which allowed plows to clear most roads, he said. The biggest problem areas, the mayor said, were in the city's densely populated Mount Washington and Acre neighborhoods where off-street parking is scarce. In all, the mayor said the city towed 10 vehicles Friday and a few more Saturday.
Councilor William Ryan suggested many residents in the inner city didn't get the mayor's phone message because they don't have land-based lines.
"People in those areas all have cell phones they get rid of in a few weeks," Ryan said.
In future storms, Ryan said the mayor should consider sending a vehicle with a loudspeaker through those neighborhoods to implore people to move their vehicles off the street. Knocking on doors could be another option, he said.
Another new strategy the city used in the storm, the mayor said, was establishing centralized places for people who don't have off-street parking to park. For instance, several schools and churches offered public parking in their lots during the storm, Fiorentini said.
"Our biggest challenge was sidewalks, especially in the inner city where people weren't able to get their cars off the street," the mayor said. "We have two sidewalk plows, but we just can't get to every sidewalk. The only way to do better is for people to shovel sidewalks in front of their homes."
The mayor said the city has an ordinance that allows police to ticket people who don't clear sidewalks in front of their property of snow, but that it has never been used.
"We don't want elderly resident shoveling because they are worried about a ticket," he said. "But we need neighbors to help neighbors."
Overall, the mayor said only about 40 Haverhill homes lost electricity as a result of the storm.
"Our position on any of these storms is to do whatever we have to do to keep the roads plowed, and we'll worry about how we'll pay for it later," the mayor said. "The residents of Haverhill overwhelmingly complied with my request to keep their cars off the street, and they complied with the governor's order not to drive. They should be commended for that as should our DPW worker who did a terrific job."
Haverhill's spending for snow and ice removal the past four winters:
2010-2011: $2.2 million
2009-2010: $1.1 million
2009-2010: $2.1 million