The hopes and plans city leaders talked about two years ago are now coming to fruition, so there are great possibilities for Haverhill. But financially the city is in a tougher spot than in 2006, and therein lies the challenge for the city's newly elected officials.

After Mayor James Fiorentini took the oath of office to begin his third term Monday morning, he spoke of the Haverhill of today verses four decades ago. Back then, it was a slowly dying shoe city: People were losing their jobs and their hope and leaving town.

Today, unemployment is at an all-time low, schools are performing better and more students are graduating, retail is returning, developers are turning abandoned factories into housing and people are moving back.

And though the increasing population is a positive sign that Haverhill is a good place to live, it also brings problems -- concerns about the water supply, diminishing open space and overcrowded schools.

Fiorentini said fixed costs are rising faster than revenue, so the city has to be innovative to get through its tough financial times. He believes one solution is for the mayor, city council, municipal unions, school committee and state and federal officials to become municipal partners who work together to solve common problems. He also touched on managed competition, saying it has worked in other states.

When City Council President Michael Hart took the microphone, he spoke of Haverhill as a city showing signs of being "on the move," but cautioned that it is in a tougher financial position than it was in two years ago.

"We are weaker financially in 2008 than we were in 2006," said Hart, who said the city no longer has one-time monies to rely on, so it must develop new revenue streams to fill the gap caused by Hale Hospital debt, the increasing cost of health care, pensions and energy, plus decreasing state aid. He said city leaders can see this as a burden, or regard it as an opportunity to learn to govern better.

"We have the opportunity to become more efficient and become a self-sufficient city," said Hart as he spoke of the need for recurring revenue streams to reduce the burden of increasing property taxes on homeowners.

Hart wants the city to generate money through a comprehensive parking plan, water/wastewater fees and through the Massachusetts Municipal Partnership Act.

He added that the city must finish the parking garage so it does not risk losing the state and federal money to build it. And it must finish the high school renovations. "We can pay 30 percent now, or 100 percent later," Hart said.

During his third term Fiorentini wants to open more industrial parks and expand the Hilldale Avenue industrial park.

City Council Vice President Robert Scatamacchia said one key to Haverhill's success has been the change from industrial parks to business parks, which allowed the new Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital, skating rink and BJ's Wholesale Club to locate in Ward Hill.

Fiorentini still regards the Merrimack River as the city's greatest resource.

Fiorentini said that for 200 years Haverhill embraced the river as a ship-building city that made tall ships, then sent them down the Merrimack River to the Atlantic Ocean and on to Europe. That ended in 1909, just before the shoe industry started here.

He wants the city to embrace the river again and preserve public access to the waterfront.

His plan is to restrict growth along the river unless it encourages public views, boating and access. He is creating a Waterfront Development Task Force to pen a waterfront zoning law that will encourage that. That task force will eventually become a waterfront development commission with the authority to regulate and control the public waterfront and preserve it.

"The river belongs to all of us," he said.



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