HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini said his proposed budget for the coming year makes education and law enforcement the city's top priorities.
He said the budget would lay off no teachers or police officers, and would even add officers to the force.
To make that happen and preserve other public services, however, Fiorentini said something must give. Drivers will enjoy fewer new road surfaces than in past years as money for paving and other street repairs is cut, he said.
Fiorentini's is calling his proposed $205.5 million spending plan the "no layoffs" budget. He has sent the proposal to city councilors for their review, which must be completed by July 1 — the start of the next fiscal year when the new budget goes into effect. The council may cut spending but cannot add to the budget.
Fiorentini said he hopes the new budget will allow the city to fill all Police Department vacancies, increasing the force to 109 officers from its current 96. His plan also boosts school spending by $1.7 million, or 2 percent, from $89 million to $90.7 million, he said.
In total, the mayor's budget increases spending $2.5 million, or 1.2 percent, over the current year and calls for no Proposition 2 1/2 overrides.
In addition to avoiding teacher and police layoffs, the new budget allows Haverhill to keep existing services and programs in place, Fiorentini said. The proposal does not call for a tax override, but instead uses $7 million in reserves to balance the budget, he said. The $7 million is broken down using $5 million from "free cash" and $2 million from the city's "rainy day" fund, which is also known as the stabilization fund, the mayor said.
"With so many of our citizens hurting, this is most certainly not the time for a big tax increase," Fiorentini said. "The fact that we have the financial resources to not only survive but to continue moving forward despite the ongoing COVID-19 and economic crisis proves the value of building up reserves and practicing fiscal discipline."
In exchange for keeping vital city services running and avoiding layoffs, money for road paving and other major street and sidewwalk repairs has been cut, Fiorentini said.
"We will still be able to repair some broken sidewalks, but we will not be able to do what we have done in the previous years, which is to install any large areas of new sidewalks," the mayor said.
Fewer roads will be paved this year, the mayor said. While paving is normally paid for with state money, the city spent $1.5 million last year to do increased road work. According to the mayor's office, nearly half the money was spent last year and the plan was to use the rest this spring. Due to the coronavirus crisis, $800,000 was carried over to help balance the upcoming budget, the mayor's office said.
The School Committee plans to review the School Department budget on Monday during a special remote meeting at 7 p.m., while the City Council has its turn to go over the budget on Tuesday during a remote session at 7 p.m. The public has an opportunity to provide feedback on the budget during a hearing Thursday at 6 p.m. All sessions will be aired on HC Media local public access television.