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Mayor James J. Fiorentini
Speech On How We Will Meet Our Challenges* - January 23, 2004
City of Haverhill Massachusetts
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Today Haverhill faces enormous challenges. We face a $4 million budget deficit. Nearly all of our easy cuts have already been made. There is no where left to cut except to cut vital services. In fact, many of our vital services have already been cut, some of them beyond the point of safety. You all know that the Bradford Fire Station is only open part time-- an intolerable situation that we are required to tolerate. The police are required to prioritize calls for assistance. Our treasurer's office does not have the workers to process your tax checks promptly and our highway can not properly fix your streets and sidewalks. The budget deficit we face is deceptive, it does not include the enormous challenges we face to keep our high school accredited and to fix our basic infrastructure. These things simply have to be done.

Haverhill. Massachusetts Mayor James J. Fiorentini
Haverhill, MA Mayor
James J. Fiorentini
   

Throughout all of this, our citizens have been wonderfully patient, and have made me proud to be their Mayor. They deserve better.

Our first goal for the first 100 days in office is to reform government so that we can balance our budget and deliver to our citizens the services they deserve. This administration has been in office 12 days. In those 12 days, we have begun the process of reform. We were helped enormously by the Greater Haverhill Foundation, and I want to thank them publicly for their assistance. I have started the process of reform now, because we can not wait until the budget becomes due in May, or we will face intolerable cuts such as the ones we faced last year.

Tuesday night I submitted to the city council the first steps to reorganize government. We eliminated three departments and combined planning, economic development, community development and inspectional services. We've streamlined our law and the Mayor's office. We've reorganized the water wastewater department to combine two top level positions. In the first 12 days, we have generated over $600,000 in savings. I was grateful to the city council Tuesday night for their support.

These financial times force us to do things that we ordinarily do not want to do. I have been forced to institute a hiring a spending freeze this past week, The spending freeze on all nonessential items thus far has cut $30,000 in non-essential equipment purchases. Our hiring freeze has reallocated people within city hall. There will be times, of course, when I have to thaw that freeze to meet essential services. Those times will be few and far between.

As business people, you all know what has to be done when you face a deficit. We have to cut costs and increase revenues.

Beginning Tuesday night, I will ask the council to approve a series of measures to do that: Starting programs to go after some of the $3 million we are owed in back taxes, water, waste water and parking fines. We all know that not all receivables are collectable. We also know as business people that aggressive collection measures and amnesties do produce results.

Starting next week, I will challenge our government and our citizens to do things we none of us in better times would like to do. I will ask each department head to submit a list of fees and costs that we can increase without undue hardship to our citizens. This is something I voted against as a city councilor, but which we have to do today to save our city as mayor.

As a city councilor, I opposed charging for parking in downtown lots. This past week, I directed our highway department director to begin looking into whether we could and should charge and what income we would gain from it.

I have never liked the commercializing of public areas. Despite my own philosophical feelings, last week I instructed our recreation director to develop a plan to develop public private partnerships to sell advertising at our ball fields and stadiums.

As a city councilor, I opposed bringing in dirt to level our landfill. As a Mayor in these difficult financial times, I have to consider this option.

Even these measures will not be enough. This week I met with union officials and told them bluntly, that I want to save their jobs, but unless there is health care reform, I can not do it.

Meeting the fiscal crisis is only our first step. The people of Haverhill deserve better service. On my first day in office, I instructed all city hall employees to begin answering the telephones by giving their names and by saying "how can we help you?" I have also instructed each department to begin developing a customer feedback questionnaire to measure and to improve customer satisfaction.

Our next step will be to tackle and improve education. Our system has made slow but steady progress in education. A few years ago, we were number 200 of all the cities and towns on MCAS tests. Today we are number 174. While I applaud the progress, that number is simply unacceptable.

Even that progress hides what is the challenge of our education system, dealing with poorer children, and with minorities. Our MCAS scores for Latino students lag and we need to work on that.

Most troubling to me, is the anecdotal evidence I have received about our dropout and push out rate. I keep meeting young children who not have a high school diploma. I have opened the conference room in the Mayor's office to a GED program. Last night, I supported using block grant money to bring back a literacy program at the public library.

This Thursday, I will challenge our school committee to make dropout prevention and student retention top goals for the coming year. We will seek to expand our summer school and after school programs. Repeated studies show that summer school and after school programs work. It really comes down to something that we business people have always understood-- the longer and harder you work the better you do. We need to teach that to our students.

This will be one of the most challenging years in our history. We will be challenged to change, and to reform government. Working together, we will get through this, and our city will be greater at the end.

*Source: City of Haverhill, Massachusetts Web Site: www.ci.haverhill.ma.us 1-23-04

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