Mayor James J. Fiorentini > Press Release
Good things are still happening in Haverhill
Remarks of Mayor James J. Fiorentini at the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce Municipal Outlook Breakfast
Friday, January 09, 2009
Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to work with this chamber, and I appreciate the opportunity to work with all of you.
As we all know, we are in the midst of what is being described as the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. You can’t turn on the news without hearing of layoffs, plant closings, stock market losses and dire economic news.
We are not immune from these State and national trends, but even in these terrible economic times, there are still good things happening in our city.
At a time when colleges and universities nationwide are having financial difficulties, Zion Bible College opened in Haverhill. Our community wide effort to recruit a new college worked!
At a time when real estate sales have slowed throughout the country, when housing projects have come to a halt nationwide, we have $100 million of new investment going into our downtown. When I drive by, I am proud to see over 200 people working to convert abandoned factories to housing and retail stores.
At a time when restaurants everywhere are closing, the people that live in those downtown units helped bring in four new restaurants in 2008. The Massachusetts Retailer's Association every year picks the best restaurant in the State. This year, they picked Keon’s Restaurant in downtown Haverhill. We know we have the best restaurant zone north of the north end—with over 22 restaurants located within a one block radius.
And, at a time when manufacturing jobs are leaving the country, Southwick Clothing brings 300 new manufacturing jobs to Haverhill.
I was so impressed when the company’s leadership team told me that they had considered locating in Thailand, but that Haverhill's economic development team was persistent and made it clear that Haverhill was the better choice.
At a time, when unemployment throughout the country is getting worse, I was happy to read that Haverhill’s unemployment rate is below the national average and below the State average.
Despite this, there are grave challenges ahead
But despite all of this, we know we are not immune from State and national trends, and we know that there are grave challenges ahead.
Cutbacks in State aid
We’ve been warned that State aid could be cut in January, by 5-10%, and House Speaker Dimasi has told us to brace ourselves for another 10% cutback in June on top of that.
On the school side, a 10% cutback in State aid would be devastating particularly to our schools. Cutbacks in State aid to education will mean school layoffs, school closings and cutbacks in school programs.
On the city side, things are not as bleak. We have already taken a number of steps to reform our government and to improve our tax base which have left us with $4 million in reserves. We are, in fact, in the best financial position we have been in for at least a decade. If there are small cutbacks in January, we can withstand that hit without major disruptions in services. However, we are much more concerned about State aid cutbacks in June.
The cutbacks require us to continue to be as innovative as possible
President Kennedy used to say that the Chinese word for crisis consisted of two characters, the character for danger and the character for opportunity.
We all know about the dangers that this economy brings us. We all know the dangers of cutbacks in State aid, and the dangers that we will not be able to provide our citizens with the services they deserve.
But with that danger comes opportunity. We have a unique opportunity now to continue to reform our health care system, and to continue to improve our government services.
On the health care side, we’ve made great strides. I am very proud of our employees and unions who worked with us to consolidate our health care plans into one plan, and who agreed to pay more on their health insurance plans. Those reforms saved us $1.5 million a year. We were proud this year when Blue Cross gave the city of Haverhill its first ever Innovation in Health Care Award, and said that if every city had taken the steps that Haverhill had already taken, there wouldn’t be a health care crisis in the State.
But we have to go further. Last week, I met with our insurance advisory board, and with the presidents of all the unions to talk about health care reforms. I was impressed with the tone of the meeting that everyone seems to be willing to work together to see if we can reach some further health care savings. We’ve agreed to continue talking. I had another encouraging sign this week when the new President of one of the unions called and agreed to speak.
We have a long way to go, but we are making progress and I want to thank the union leaders who have taken that first step.
The budget also offers us the opportunity to continue to reform our permitting process.
At city hall, we are working to imitate the model of the registry of motor vehicles and automate as much of our permit process as we can. This year, we obtained a grant from the State to help automate the granting of permits. Over the past few months, our departments have worked together to put out an RFP. We expect by the end of the year, some of the permits you now get from city hall, you will be able to get on line without leaving your businesses. Our motto is simple: don’t wait in line, get on line.
Dawn is Coming
Many of you, I know, are distressed about the national economy. I understand. I get distressed sometimes too when I see our friends and neighbors being laid off. But there is an old country music tune, made popular by the Mama’s and Papa’s in the 1970’s that ends this way: “It’s always darkest just before dawn.” I know that if we all pull together, and all row in the same direction, we will get through this.
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