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Haverhill mayor won't even ask

Posted by Marcia Dick  March 22, 2007 12:19 PM

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Still feeling the bitter sting of defeat after Haverhill voters rejected a $55 million override request to fund construction of a new high school in November 2002, Mayor James J. Fiorentini said "There will be no overrides and no debt exclusions" this year.

Fiorentini instead plans to rely on one-time revenues to make ends meet in fiscal 2008, including $2.8 million from the sale of a city-owned parcel of waterfront property. He hopes to complete the transaction by early May, at about the same time he expects to submit his proposed blueprint for fiscal 2008 spending to the City Council.

Without that cash in the city coffers, Haverhill is looking at a shortfall of $2.5 million. So what's Plan B if the land deal falls through?

"I've got a few ideas, but nothing I'm prepared to talk about right now," the mayor said, noting that the budget process just this week shifted into high gear as department heads began filing into his office to discuss their spending priorities for the upcoming budget year.

In the meantime, Fiorentini is focusing on cost-cutting measures. In the coming months, he plans to shake up City Hall in an effort to "continue to make government lean, not mean," trim fuel costs by making public buildings more energy efficient, and replace the antiquated telephone system in municipal offices.

The new phone system will bring City Hall into the 21st century, providing voice mail for all municipal departments while simultaneously saving taxpayers $33,000 annually.

The mayor said he also is working to reduce healthcare costs by negotiating with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and other companies in hopes of designing low-cost options for city employees.

Making these small cuts will add up to significant savings, Fiorentini said, noting that such measures are critical given the city's financial situation. Haverhill taxpayers must pay $6.5 million annually to cover debts associated with the 2001 sale of the former city-owned Hale Hospital, a burden that is expected to drain city resources for the next 15 years.

"We do not want to use one-time money to balance the books," Fiorentini said. "We want to wean ourselves from that, but until the Hale debt goes away or the state comes up with more money, we have no other alternative. There's no appetite for an override in Haverhill."

Here's some of the Haverhill numbers:


FY 2007 budget: $136.5 million
Shortfall: Dependent on sale of Ornstein factory, which could net city $2.8 million
Reason for shortfall: Hale Hospital debt, which costs local taxpayers about $6.5 million annually
Preliminary projection for FY 2008 budget: $142 million
Projected increase in expenses: About $5.4 million, a jump of about 4 percent over the current fiscal year.
Top reasons for increase: Rising fixed costs, including fuel and municipal salaries and healthcare benefits
Override/debt exclusion: No plans to seek either this year; Haverhill voters rejected a $55 million override request to fund construction of a new high school in November 2002.
Median annual family income: $65,475
Population: 60,053
Average property tax bill: The owner of the average single-family home in Haverhill, assessed at $311,155, will pay $3,211 in property taxes this fiscal year, an increase of $70, or 2.2 percent.

SOURCE: City of Haverhill, US Census figures, Mass. Dept. of Revenue


-- Brenda Buote

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About override central Coverage of Prop 21/2 override campaigns in more than 30 communities in Greater Boston.
Christine Wallgren is a correspondent in the Globe South bureau.
David Dahl is the Globe's regional editor.
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