HAVERHILL — The City Council voted down the mayor's proposed city budget for the next fiscal year and tabled the discussion until its next meeting on June 29, just one day before the end of this fiscal year.
Mayor James Fiorentini presented a $217 million budget to the council, saying it continues the city's investments in public safety, public health, public education and infrastructure, and with new federal American Recovery Act money, "this is the time to make critical investments in Haverhill."
If the council votes the budget down again, the city would be placed into a situation where it could only fund essential services, officials said.
Councilors in support of the mayor's budget included Thomas Sullivan, who called it the best and most comprehensive budget he has had the opportunity to vote on in the nine years he's been on the city council; Joseph Bevilacqua, who said it is an excellent budget that meets the needs of citizens now and in the future; Bill Macek, who said it addresses needs that weren't addressed in past budgets, and Mary Ellen Daly-O’Brien, who said it was the best budget she's ever seen.
Voting against the budget were councilors Michael McGonagle, Tim Jordan, Colin LePage, John Michitson, and Council President Melinda Barrett.
LePage, one of several councilors who sought concessions from from the mayor, asked Fiorentini what he will do with a $358,000 impact fee paid to the city by Stem, the downtown retail cannabis shop, and what he will do with the 3% local option tax that all retail cannabis shops in the city must pay.
The mayor said that as part of the budget, if approved, he would put the impact fee into a stabilization account and not earmark it at this time, and put the local option tax into the city's general fund. The mayor noted that Stem is disputing the impact fee and has filed a lawsuit against the city.
LePage said he wanted impact fees and local option tax revenue be devoted to mental health clinicians, youth programming and transportation, scholarships for activities such as camps and sports lessons, and other needs.
"I'd like to continue the discussion of how this source of revenue will be used," LePage.
Macek made an appeal to his fellow councilors saying the budget was threatened at the 11th hour by new demands being made.
"Where was all of this passion and outcry during the budget sessions? It wasn't there," Macek said. "These big requests tonight were not demands made at any time during budget sessions."
McGonagle said he too wanted revenue from the local option tax used to fund mental health services, after school programs and organizations that support youths in the city.
"Other than that I thought it was a very good budget," he said. "Now it's in the mayor's court."
Highlights of the mayor's budget include money for:
Social workers and psychological workers
The budget would fund social workers to help with drug addition and psychological workers to deal with mental health issues.
The mayor's budget fully funds the 110 member police department, up from 83 members nine years ago, allowing for the return of downtown foot patrols and neighborhood bike patrols. The budget also funds two mental health councilors to help police deal with drug and mental health issues and would provide for social workers to help with drug addiction.
The mayor noted the school budget has increased by $19 million over the past five years, a 25% increase. He said schools will receive an additional $14 million in federal money this year and an additional $25 million over the next two years. Fiorentini said he is also committing $700,000 in one-time American Recovery Act funds to schools. He also said his budget will allow 1,700 students to attend summer school, a record number, and hire more educators.
The budget would provide additional funding for more recreational activities for children, and money for more mental health services to supplement the new public health department. The budget also creates a reliable stream of funding for those activities for at least the next five years.
The mayor said his budget also creates a new public health department that will help finish the job of dealing with the pandemic and assist residents in staying healthy.
This budget also includes additional money to fix streets and sidewalks, to clean the river and improve the city's drinking water supply.