EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

December 12, 2012

Officials start budget 'wish list'

LAWRENCE – In the most impoverished of all 351 towns and cites in Massachusetts, the poverty can be seen in almost every public building.

At the public works yard on Auburn Street - so out-of-date it still includes stalls for the horses that pulled water tanks and pumpers to fires – a 15,000-square-foot garage has been boarded up and is too unsafe to enter.

At the 75-year-old South Broadway firehouse, the crumbling concrete floor is propped up by scaffolding in the basement and losing the strength to hold the engine and ladder truck assigned to the building. Without repairs, the building may have to be abandoned, Fire Chief Jack Bergeron has warned.

At the massive yellow-brick education complex on Haverhill Street, built in 1882, a roof the size of a football field leaks badly and needs a $1.6 million repair.

Police cruisers are 10 years old. The Fire Department’s snorkel truck is 30 years old. Several other city departments, including the Building Department, still use paper records almost exclusively.

But, yesterday, nearly a decade after the city stopped planning major infrastructure improvements and purchases as the money ran out, a team appointed by Mayor William Lantigua began calculating the bill for the neglect. By March or April, the committee is scheduled to release the city’s first comprehensive capital budget since 2004 and submit it to Lantigua and then the City Council for approval.

Budget Director Mark Ianello, chairman of the committee of department heads developing the capital budget, acknowledged that much of it will be only “a wish list” because the money still isn’t there.

Even the capital budget document itself will be stripped down, Ianello told the commissioners yesterday, because he doesn’t have the money or staff to create the polished, four-color five-year plans that wealthier municipalities roll out annually.

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