EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 10, 2012

Editorial: Squeezing seniors to keep the gravy train rolling

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Haverhill has hit upon a plan to make certain there’s always plenty of feed in the public sector trough — indentured servitude.

That’s right. If you’re old and poor and can’t pay your city property tax bill, Haverhill is ready to put you to work. You’ll earn $8.50 an hour — that’s 50 whole cents more than the state minimum wage — for your labor, strictly voluntary, of course. You won’t see any of that money. It will be applied toward reducing your property tax bill — kind of like getting a paycheck with a 100-percent garnishment of wages.

Of course, next year, another property tax bill comes due — so, back to work, old-timer.

Next up, Haverhill converts its old shoe mills to Dickensian workhouses.

Mayor James “Ebenezer” Fiorentini thinks this is grand. In assembling his last budget, Fiorentini was handing out raises like he was tossing confetti from the roof of City Hall. The city’s $154 million budget increased spending by $5.1 million this year, with $4.5 million of that going to the schools. About half the city-side increase of $600,000 went to cover raises for city workers. There was a $30,000 pay raise for an assistant superintendent and a contract for principals that grants them bonuses for raising MCAS scores — in other words, for doing their jobs.

How a city facing the debt and other fiscal hurdles that Haverhill does hands out raises or bonuses to anyone is a very good question indeed.

Beyond the contracted raises are the extravagant salaries drawn by public employees — a superintendent and a public safety commissioner who each are approaching $200,000 a year down to ordinary firefighters who, with overtime, earn well over $100,000 a year.

With all the money needed to keep its public “servants” happy, it is little wonder the old and poor are asked to work to pay their share.

Fiorentini even says his white-haired bond servants are real go-getters. The mayor said he has an elderly woman who “volunteers” in his office to receive the tax break.

“She does a great job answering the phone and helping with requests and complaints from constituents,” the mayor said in a press release.

Of course, Fiorentini spins the program as all about helping seniors and the city at the same time. No seniors are required to work — it’s all “voluntary.” Of course, there are consequences for not paying a property tax bill, so “voluntary” is a relative term here.

And the program helps city departments that have been hit by budget cuts so everyone’s a winner here — especially the city of Haverhill.

The program has been in place for several years now — Fiorentini started it as a councilor in 1997 — and the mayor is seeking to expand it. He wants to increase the amount of debt seniors can work off from $695 to $1,031 per year.

Fiorentini is also proposing a change in the program that would allow an “approved representative” to work in the place of a senior citizen who is unable to work due to old age or poor health. It’s nice to think that young, vigorous citizens will soon be able to help Grandma work off her debt.

Fiorentini’s patronizing comments on these seniors and his touting of this program are sickening.

If the mayor wants help senior citizens struggling with their property taxes here’s a better idea: Stop spending so much money. Stop handing out so much cash to public employees that property taxes become unaffordable.

And he can stop patting himself on the back for offering the elderly a debt workout plan at minimum-wage rates while an increasing number of public employees are raking in six-figure salaries under his watch.