HAVERHILL — In a 7-2 vote, the City Council on Tuesday night approved Mayor James Fiorentini’s $201 million dollar city budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
Fiorentini said his budget increases the school budget by $4.8 million over last year; fully funds everything the school department sought — including free, all-day kindergarten; provides free breakfast and lunch for all students; and hires four new teachers to lower class size.
He said the budget also provides for a cleaner downtown, with a maintenance worker going from part-time to full-time, provides additional overtime in inspectional services to crack down on illegal construction, allow for the hiring of one highway department worker, and allow the city to repave twice as many streets as in the past.
“At the urging of Councilor (Michael) McGonagle and all the other city councilors, we added a sergeant to the police department that will assist us in doing a better job cracking down on speeders throughout the city,” Fiorentini said.
Referring to recent communications from parents who have reached out to city council members to ask for the hiring of additional school maintenance workers, the mayor said the hiring of more maintenance workers (tradespeople) was not a request of the school superintendent or the School Committee, and that hiring more was the “wrong way to go.”
Fiorentini said his proposal for addressing school maintenance avoids upwards of $500,000 in the annual cost of additional maintenance workers by continuing to outsource, calling in trade experts as needed, in addition to the current staff of four tradespeople and a supervisor.
The approved budget will allow for the hiring of a city/school building maintenance director, with a start date of next January, and one HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) expert.
Fiorentini said the salary of a new HVAC employee would be split between the city and the school department. However, the school portion requires the approval of the School Committee. The mayor said he was told by School Superintendent Margaret Marotta that the biggest maintenance backlog is with HVAC systems.
At the request of Councilor Melinda Barrett, $60,000 will be transferred from the city’s tree planting budget to the school department, so it can hire an extra maintenance worker, if that’s what the school department wants to do, the mayor said.
City Auditor/Finance Director Charles Benevento explained that a reallocation of $90,000 from the city’s snow and ice budget would go to fund a half-year’s salary for the new directorship position and pay the city’s half-share of the HVAC expert.
Councilors Joseph Bevilacqua, Melinda Barrett, Colin LePage, Tom Sullivan, William Macek, Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien and Michael McGonagle voted to approve the budget. Councilor Tim Jordan and Council President John Michitson voted in opposition.
Sullivan told the mayor that he liked the idea of hiring a building maintenance director who will take ownership of the day-to-day functioning of the maintenance of the buildings.
“It’s not going to be an easy job or a cushy one,” Sullivan said. “If we don’t carry through with a short- and long-term plan, we’ll only continue to have this discussion in the years ahead.”
Jordan argued with the mayor over the school building maintenance staffing level, citing reports and standards that he said call for a minimum of nine maintenance workers, which he referred to as a level of “unkempt neglect” based on square footage of the city’s 17 school buildings.