Facing pressure from city councilors to buy two new fire trucks to replace aging vehicles, Mayor James Fiorentini said he intends to submit a plan allowing for the purchase of both trucks.
Fiorentini said his proposal will be in front of city councilors before Labor Day. It is his effort to resolve the impasse that forced creation of a 1/12th budget when the council voted down his initial city budget proposal by a 6-3 margin three weeks ago. That partial budget keeps city departments operating for July while the fire truck issue is worked out and the mayor and council settle on a budget for the rest of the fiscal year, which runs from July to June of next year.
Fiorentini said the idea of buying two pumper trucks by amending the city’s current fire truck replacement plan was proposed by Fire Chief William Laliberty. The earlier plan that rotates and replaces fire trucks was developed by former fire Chief Jack Parow.
“Right now, the plan calls for buying one truck this year, the tanker truck next year and a second pumper truck in two years,” Fiorentini said at last week’s City Council meeting. “I’ll commit to you to having an amended capital plan before you, no later than Labor Day, that will purchase two pumper trucks.
“We can pay for this by amending the fire truck replacement plan to move the tanker truck replacement out two years from 2022 to 2024,’’ the mayor said. “This is acceptable to the fire chief. In fact, he’s all for it. He proposed it.”
Fiorentini’s new proposal comes three weeks after councilors voted down his $205 million budget when he refused to spend money to buy two fire trucks. At the time, councilors opposed the borrowing order that covered a single truck, arguing that interest rates are so low that purchasing two trucks now would be smart spending.
Fiorentini stood firm, telling councilors he would revisit the idea once he saw how much state aid Haverhill will receive this year.
Due to the impasse, the 1/12th budget was enacted June 30 to cover the city for the month of July only. The fiscal year began on July 1.
Laliberty said he is glad the Fire Department may soon have the trucks because some vehicles in the fleet are in need of “critical” repair.
“I have an obligation to provide equipment so firefighters can do their job safety and properly so they can serve the community,” Laliberty said.
“Our big job is to put out fires, respond to medical calls and rescue situations. We have to have the right tools in place.”
The chief said Haverhill has seven pumper trucks, also called engines, that are used to carry relatively small amounts of water along with a fire hose and other equipment to a fire scene. The oldest truck was purchased in 1987 and the most recent in 2018, he said.
There is only one tanker truck in the city, purchased in 1992. That truck is capable of carrying a much larger amount of water to fire scenes, he said.
Haverhill has one rescue truck that was purchased as a used vehicle from Georgetown, according to Laliberty. It will be replaced by a new rescue truck set to come to the Haverhill department in the fall.
At last week's council meeting, councilors attempted to invoke a seldom-used state law allowing them to add money to the mayor’s proposed budget. However, City Solicitor William Cox said he did not believe that law was applicable in this case, because the law referenced could only be considered if money for an entire department was omitted. Since Fiorentini provided money for the Fire Department in his budget, Cox believed the council could not simply contest it over a particular line item they disagreed on.
The mayor said he has worked diligently with Laliberty to reach a middle ground that serves the interests of the Fire Department while being as fiscally prudent as possible.
“I understand the council loud and clear. We all want good, working fire trucks,” Fiorentini said.
“We have an obligation to the public to make certain that they’re safe. We have to have to make sure we’re good stewards of the citizens’ tax dollars.”
Also this week, Fiorentini asked councilors to consider a 1/12th city budget for August as he and councilors work out the budget for the remaining 10 months of the fiscal year.