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Mayor James J. Fiorentini
Speech - Remarks for the Municipal Outlook breakfast January 2005* - January 7, 2005
City of Haverhill Massachusetts

One year ago

One year ago when I spoke to you last, the municipal outlook for Haverhill looked grim. Our library had closed, and we had managed to keep it open only by settling a lawsuit and using those one time funds to keep it open. One year ago, our fire station in Bradford was closed. One year we faced a deficit in the upcoming year of $4.8 million. One year ago, our municipal outlook looked so grim that the newspapers were filled with stories that our bonds would sink to junk bond status and we might become the first city since Chelsea in 1990 to go into receivership.

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

A lot has changed in that one year. Today, our library is open, our fire station is open, our budget is balanced and the talk of receivership is over. Our bond rating did not slip, our bond outlook went up. We balanced our budget without a single layoff. To put it succinctly: Haverhill is hot.

All of this took a good deal of hard work, a good deal of cooperation from a lot of people and it took a good deal of teamwork Some of the plans that were instituted were not popular: no one cares if you consolidate departments, but when we took some city functions, put them into water and waste water and then raised rates to pay for them, people cared indeed. It took votes of the city council to implement all of this, and I want to thank them publicly and acknowledge their role in turning this around.

Our legislative delegation worked hard to gain us more money.

Our unions worked with us to consolidate health care plans, and change the number of optimism available from 5 plans to 1 plan saving us $600,000 a year, thank you.

Our employees, who worked a little harder and a little longer to make reorganization work. Our work force today is 17% lower than it was 2 years ago, and our reorganization saved us another $600,000 year. It was our employees who made this happen and I want to thank them.

I am happy to report that today, the municipal outlook for Haverhill is still guarded, but the light that shines on Haverhill is much brighter today than it was one year ago. Our MCAS scores are up, are school standardized tests are up. Our real estate values are skyrocketing, even as some surrounding communities showed a decrease in values. Haverhill was noted as one of the fastest growing communities in the State. For all of our problems, Haverhill remains a destination city. People want to live here, work here and dine here.

But even with all that we have done, even with all the progress that we have made, Haverhill still remains a city with deep rooted structural economic problems. We must still pay, at the start of every year, a Hale debt of $6.5 million for a hospital that we no longer own. We still face health care costs that are rising at the rate of 9-15% per year, and folks, you do not have to be an economist to figure this: if health care costs go up by 10%, and taxes go up by 2 and half percent, you are going to have a problem. This administration has made health care reform a priority and that priority will continue.

The Hale debt remains with us, it remains a pressing problem and it is not going to disappear. It is a long term structural problem—not a one time problem and it can be solved only with a long term structural solution, not with one time solutions.

Last year, our State legislative delegation went to bat for us, and obtained money to get us through the year. They did the same the year before that and I am confident, hopeful that they can help us again this year. We thank our legislators for their support and we need your continued support to keep Haverhill afloat. We need support too from the Romney administration. We need the Romney administration to step up to the plate with long term structural relief.

We’ll continue to lobby for State aid, and for Federal assistance.

But this can not be all that we do. Part of the solution has to come from within.

We have reorganized, we have made cuts and that will continue, but there has to be more. In my wildest dreams I know that we are not going to get $7 million a year in additional State aid and not matter how hard we try, we are not going to achieve anything close to that in real dollar savings through efficiencies, concessions, health care concessions and all other cuts. We are not going to cut our way out of this. We have to grow our way out of it.

Part of our solution is that we need to expand our tax base.

For commercial and industrial growth, we will continue to work to speed up permitting and make it clear that Haverhill is a city that welcomes and wants your business.

We also have to make a concerted effort to bring in more affordable housing, and to make housing more affordable.

Last year, the good news is that Haverhill continues to be a destination city. Housing values rose 12% in just one year, and 30% over three years. People are flocking to move here – and over the past two years, we were one of the fastest growing communities in the State.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that real estate property values are rising rapidly and we risk becoming a city that is unaffordable. The average house price in Haverhill is now $300,000—it seems only yesterday that I bought my house for $37,000. We are rapidly, all too rapidly, becoming a city where our own children and grandchildren can not afford to live here or to buy a house here.

This year, my administration will redouble its efforts to build more housing downtown and reuse old mill buildings as housing space. We will redouble our efforts to bring housing to the center of our city where we have the infrastructure to support it, and we will redouble our efforts to make the American dream come true for more of our families here in Haverhill. So long as a single family is left behind, Haverhill can be said to have progressed.

Thank you and I look forward to working with you this year.
Jim Fiorentini

*Source: City of Haverhill, Massachusetts Web Site: www.ci.haverhill.ma.us 2-16-05

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