HAVERHILL – The City Council approved $400,000 to be spent on extensive repairs of the leaky roof at the Consentino School, but not before spending about 45 minutes arguing with the mayor over where the funds should come from.
The Consentino roof has been a source of much contention in the city. It leaks each time it rains, Mayor James Fiorentini admitted Tuesday, and students have been forced to relocate into other classrooms when the rain has been too heavy. Because the state is considering funding a massive renovation – or potentially, reconstruction – of the school, the city opted to repair the roof rather than replace it.
At Tuesday's council meeting, the mayor proposed gathering that $400,000 from a variety of other accounts in the city, including from a fund earmarked for new lights at the St. James School, for which the city received a grant instead, or other city capital projects; but he also proposed taking $129,000 from a fund earmarked for repairs to the high school roof and $78,000 put aside for school boiler repairs.
Several councilors, most notably Timothy Jordan, took exception with using money needed for other critical school repairs to pay for the Consentino roof. He suggested the mayor pull the funds from other city accounts previously identified by Councilor Colin LePage as having excess or from the city's $12.4 million free cash fund, but the mayor refused.
The money set aside for the high school roof and the boilers was part of $1.5 million Fiorentini agreed to spend on school repairs during a negotiation with the council in November. In exchange, the council agreed to tax $500,000 under the levy limit. Tuesday, Jordan accused the mayor of going back on his word to the council.
"I fundamentally believe that if we negotiate something in good faith with the mayor, we need to hold him accountable to his end of the bargain. If we fail to do that, we're basically telling him it's OK to walk over us time and time again," Jordan said.
Fiorentini responded that the councilors should hold him accountable – but he was adamant that he promised the $129,000 would go toward any school roof, not the high school roof.
"I think using money that's been set aside for a school roof to repair a school roof – the Consentino – is the best place to take it from, and that continues to be my recommendation," Fiorentini said. "Of course you should hold me accountable, you should hold my feet to the fire; but I'm not doing anything differently than I said I would."
After much discussion, Fiorentini agreed to take only $57,000 from the high school roof's account, and took the remaining $72,000 from an open government IT account instead. The measure passed 5-3, with councilors Jordan and Michael McGonagle and council President John Michitson dissenting, in favor of removing the money from other accounts instead. LePage was not present.
Each councilor at the meeting expressed disdain for how the Consentino money came to be accounted for, but all were fully in support of paying for the repairs. Several – including William Macek, Mary Ellen Daly O'Brien and Michitson – asked that the mayor attempt to find funding for repairs to the high school roof and other critically needed school investments before the city is tasked with setting its budget at the end of June.
"I think what disturbs me the most is recently it appears that school updates and repairs are coming about after there is a public outcry and embarrassing social media and I don’t think that's any way to do business," Daly O'Brien said.