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Mayor James J. Fiorentini
State of the City Address* - February 15, 2005
City of Haverhill Massachusetts
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The State of the City, 2005

A Vision for a 21 st Century Haverhill

Mr. President, members of the council and distinguished guests. Thank you for allowing me to speak this evening directly to the people of Haverhill .

I’d like to take a moment this evening to introduce and to thank some very special guests- Haverhill residents who have served our country in the Mideast and who are here to join with us this evening. Please join with in welcoming Specialist Alan Wheeler, Lance Corporal Charles Reid III, and our own Chief Master Sergeant Michael Ingham. Welcome home.

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

I particularly want to thank the people of Haverhill thank the people for the privilege of being your Mayor, for your confidence, your support, and your dedication to our city. It has been an honor serving you—visiting your children in their classrooms, visiting your neighborhoods and serving you from city hall.

Fellow citizens. A year ago when I addressed the city not long after my inauguration, our situation looked grim. We had just come through a budget that had first closed the public library only to reopen it by using a one-time settlement from a lawsuit to keep it open one last year. Our fire station in Bradford was closed and no one could say when, or if, it would reopen. Our bond rating was the lowest in the State. One year ago, Haverhill faced a $4.8 million deficit. One year ago, Haverhill was out of money and our newspapers were filled with stories that our bond rating would fall even further and that Haverhill might become the first city since Chelsea in 1990 to be taken over by the State. You and I knew better.

I pledged to you then, a year ago, that on my watch, Haverhill would not go into receivership.

I asked for the entire city to work together, and we did. We cut payroll, we worked with all 21 unions to consolidate health plans and save $600,000 per year, our new tax collection policies brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes and we worked with our fine legislative team to bring in new State aid. We saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by reorganizing city government. When the year was over, we did what no one thought possible: we balanced the city budget without a single layoff, without an override or a trash tax: we didn’t cut services, we improved them.

Our bond rating didn’t fall into junk bond status, as some predicted it would: our bond outlook went up to a positive outlook, exactly the same positive outlook that many people in Haverhill had by the end of the year.

Now this great progress didn’t just happen. It took a lot of hard work, and a lot of teamwork by a lot of good people. It took hard work by the city council and I thank them tonight for their contribution. It took hard work and dedication by the school committee; a great legislative delegation that made us the only city in the State last year to receive additional State aid-- and it took an excellent group of department heads and city employees who all worked harder and longer to give the people of Haverhill the service they deserve. Our progress was also made possible by adopting one simple rule regarding spending: we do not spend what we do not have.

As a result of this teamwork and hard work, it is my pleasure to report to you tonight that the State of the city is far stronger than it was only a year ago. We have a long way to go, but Haverhill is on its way back.

Let me relate a few of those steps toward a stronger future for our city:

A year ago, I outlined to you a three-part program to make Haverhill a consumer city—clean streets, safe streets, and good schools.

A year ago, citizens had real concerns about safety. Crime was up, and several positions in our police department remained vacant.

This council joined with me to pass a budget that filled every vacant position in the police department.

We used the new Compstat computer program, the same program that Mayor Giuliani used in New York City , to locate the high crime neighborhoods. We directed Federal block grant money, for the first time, to send out more patrols to those high crime neighborhoods, and to put police officers where they were needed most.

Tonight, we have the results. Last year in the city of Haverhill , crime dropped by 11%. Car thefts were down 32%, assaults were down 21% and overall there were 300 fewer crimes in Haverhill last year then there were the year before. Our fine police department did an excellent job last year and we thank them for their hard work and dedication.

This year, we’ll do even more. We’ll use Federal block grant than ever before for police patrols, and this year, we are going to add something. This year, our block grant money will be used to have police officers, health inspectors and other city officials work together in one unified team in our inner city neighborhoods. They’ll begin to implement a policy of policing called the “broken windows” approach to crime control. We’ll work together to keep those neighborhoods cleaner and quieter.

No Mayor can say that the crime rate will always go down. What we can say is this: Haverhill is a safe city and we intend to keep it that way!

Last year, our Bradford fire station was closed and no one could say if or when it would reopen. We worked with our unions, negotiated concessions in overtime, and today I can report to you that the Bradford Fire Station is open full time and we intend to keep it open.

Last year, we worked hard to make public education an even higher priority. Education has always been a top priority for me, for my family and for this city. I graduated from a new Haverhill High School in 1965, and my Dad taught science there for 32 years. Last year, we allocated more money towards public education than had ever been spent in the past. Last year, all of our schools were judged by the State to have made adequate yearly progress, our MCAS scores in English were above the State average and we increased the number of children who were judged proficient. We improved but we know that we can and we must do better.

We looked at our system and saw that we were failing large groups of kids who were dropping out of our schools. We established a citywide drop out commission, and brought in some of the top experts in education to propose solutions. At their suggestion, we established a summer school program for at risk children, and this year we will become only the second school district in the state to make summer school mandatory for children who do not meet basic minimum standards.

We found that many of the computers at the high school were outdated or broken, so we rebuilt the computer lab at the high school. I was in the very first middle school band in 1957 and I was happy to initiate a program to reinstate the middle school music programs. This year we’ll start repairs on one of the middle schools, we’ll repair more boilers and we’ll fix more schools.

Our MCAS scores are higher than scores in many comparable communities, we spend more per pupil than over 100 other communities, but, I’m not satisfied nor should you be. Education remains our biggest challenge.

One of those challenges is our high school. Last year, I promised you that we would begin to reverse decades of neglect at our high school and begin fixing our school. I am happy to report tonight that that promise has turned into progress. Our first rehabilitation project, the redoing of the handicapped elevator and the front entrance-way, were completed ahead of schedule.

One of the things that makes me proudest is that this year we will fix the science labs at the high school, labs that have been broken since my Dad first started teaching physics there 42 years ago. We’ll replace windows and doors, and when this year is over, the Hillies of Haverhill high school will have a school that is on its towards looking the best it has in four (4) decades. We are on the right track.

But make no mistake about it; continued progress in public education requires a continued public investment. Last year, we put in more money towards public education than at any time in our history. This year, we hope to do even better—but we can only do so much. We need the help of the State. The Governor’s proposed budget, which level funds education, is unacceptable. We will join with our legislative team, a team that has helped us year after year, to see if we can do better.

Last year, to keep our streets cleaner, we instituted Operation Clean Sweep. We planted more trees than had been planted in decades, fixed dozens of broken storm drains, repaired over 150 fire hydrants, we bought a new street sweeper, and for the first time in over 50 half a century, we brought disease resistant elm trees back to Haverhill. This year, our city will be recognized in a national documentary about elm trees.

This year, we plan to do more. We’ll plant more elm trees, fix more sidewalks, repair more streets then we have done in many years. This year, for the first time in many years, we’ll sponsor a citywide cleanup campaign, and this year, for the first time ever, the city will compete in the national “American In Bloom” contest. We will compete and we intend to win. But this is going to be more than just a competition; it will be an opportunity to showcase our civic pride. We want everyone to know what we already know, that Haverhill is a great place to live.

Keeping Haverhill as a great place to live means paying attention to quality of life issues. Last year, we brought thousands of people to Haverhill with our new North of the North End festival. We’ll do more festivals this year and continue to make Haverhill fun.

Earlier this year, we initiated the Haverhill Skates program to make free ice-skating available to our children indoors at the rink and, when the weather permitted, outdoors.

I can still remember as a young boy going to the Zins playground to use the swing sets. Over the years, we’ve taken swing sets out of nearly all of our parks and playgrounds. This year, we’ll start putting them back. We want the children of this city to have what we had: a place to play and a place to swing.

A year ago, I asked the city council to rezone the old shoe factory district to make it possible to bring old shoe factories back to life as housing. The council joined with me in the first step of rezoning, and the results have been beyond anything we could predict.

Tonight, eight old factory buildings are poised for rehabilitation. For the first time in over half a century, a new building is being built downtown, on Washington Street . I can not begin to tell you the immense feeling of pride I had when one of the developers took me on a tour of a building he is rehabilitating on Washington Street and I found on the floor the words Roma Café, left there by my grandfather when he lived and worked there in1923.

We have with us tonight several of the urban pioneers who are using their own money to bring these old factories back to life and I want to recognize them and thank them for their commitment to our great city: from the Beacon Companies, Mr. Howard Cohen whose company wants to rehabilitate the old 5 th Avenue Shoe and Cabot Furniture Buildings. Mr. and Mrs. Chen who have already started rehabilitating the old Haverhill Shoe Novelty building on Essex Street , and Dr. Mark Messinger who hopes to rehabilitate his building on Washington Street : welcome and thank you for your investment in our city.

Downtown rezoning was the first step, but only the first step, in a new economic development policy for a new Haverhill .

The new policy we started last year was to reuse old factory buildings downtown, to make it easier to do sidewalk dining, and to encourage restaurants and housing in our downtown area.

We sped up the process of permitting for restaurants, and we made it possible to have outdoor sidewalk and riverfront dining in Haverhill .

This progress will not always be in one direction—no Mayor can predict which businesses will last and which ones will fail. But we can report tonight that the state of our new downtown, Washington Street and Wingate Street , has the beginnings of something I could only dream about a few years ago—a restaurant zone, with 16 eating establishments located within a small area.

Now it’s time to extend that downtown progress to other areas of the city.

Our plans for a 21 st century Haverhill should start with our past and with what made us a city in the first place, our river. The Merrimack River is a better river, more navigable than the Charles River and the Merrimack River remains our greatest unused asset and our greatest challenge.

Decades ago, our river was an open sewer and no one wanted to live nearby. I still remember growing up in Riverside , and on hot summer days, our mother shutting all the windows and closing the shutters to keep out the smell of the river. Today, thanks to the clean water act of 1970 and to our own sewage treatment plant, those days are long gone. The river is back!

Last year, for the first time, we established a Harbor Commission—several of the members of this Harbor Commission are here this evening and I thank them for their hard work. We brought a tour boat to our city, and we put in docks downtown and near the Water street fire station. It was a beginning.

This year, we need to begin planning for the Haverhill of the future. Next month, we’ll convene our blue ribbon zoning commission to establish a 21 st century zoning plan for our city and a 21 st century plan for waterfront development. Our 21 st century plan will have this overriding principle: The river belongs to all of us, not just to those developers wealthy enough to be able to build next to it. We’ll give bonuses to those developers who keep that principle in mind, and we’ll make it harder for those who forget.

Look all up and down the river—from River Street where my mother grew up, to Water Street , to the largely unused waterfront in Bradford near the Basiliere Bridge . Decades from now, that area can be the hub of Haverhill with boats and docks and boardwalks: but only if we start planning today and only if we do it right. By the end of this year, we’ll have a comprehensive plan for a 21 st century river front usage. We know that reconnecting our citizens with the waterway will take decades. But this is the ideal time to plan, when our waterfront is still largely unused and when we have the time to plan.

Our plan for a 21 st century Haverhill has to include one other key component: a place for our citizens to shop. Although we’ve made some progress, so many of our citizens have made one complaint to me—there are not enough good places to shop here in Haverhill .

Part of the answer is the sales tax, but only part. The sales tax explains why Salem New Hampshire has more retail stores than Haverhill , but it does not explain why Methuen has the loop and we do not.

Part of the answer is our old retail strategy. Our old retail strategy, our 19 th century strategy, was to make it difficult for retail stores to locate near highways. That 19 th century retail strategy served us well in the 19 th century and in the early part of the 20 th. But today, large businesses want acres of land for their stores. Modern big box retail stores want to go near interstate highway—think of the loop in Methuen and the Rockingham Mall in Salem .

If we want a chance to have retail stores in Haverhill , it’s time to establish a 21 st century retail policy.

Tonight I have before the city council the first steps in that 21 st century retail policy to rezone portions of the industrial park near Broadway and to eliminate a key regulatory barrier that for so long has made it so difficult for large retails stores to locate here in our city.

A year ago, in my State of the city speech, I proposed rezoning a portion of downtown. We know that that worked. Tonight, I ask you to rezone a portion of the industrial park near Broadway. This new strategy will also work.

We are working with an experienced commercial developer, KGI Properties, that has selected this site for Lowe’s and for two other large retail chains to locate here. Tonight, I am joined by project manager of this exciting project, Kevin Letch: welcome. We intend to work with you to bring retail to Haverhill . If you succeed in bringing Lowe’s to Haverhill , it will be the largest retail store ever to locate in the city of Haverhill . It will bring more us jobs, tax revenues and give our people a place to shop.

No one can guarantee that this will happen, but we can guarantee this: we have a much better chance if we try than if we do not.

Last year, Haverhill had a great year. We became, again, one of the fastest growing cities in Massachusetts . Some of our education scores went up, our crime rate went down. Our fire stations reopened, our library remained open, long forgotten factory buildings were rediscovered, and downtown restaurant zone started at last. We know we have a long way to go, but I can report to you tonight that while our problems endure, our path is correct, our work goes on, and the State of our city is stronger tonight than it has been in a long, long time.

Thank you and good evening.


*Source: City of Haverhill, Massachusetts Web Site: www.ci.haverhill.ma.us 2-23-05

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