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Benton Harbor EFM seeks special tax for cash-strapped city

By Mike Sandula
The Michigan Citizen

BENTON HARBOR — Weeks after voters rejected police and fire millage renewals, Benton Harbor Emergency Financial Manager Joseph Harris has announced a “special assessment” to fund the city’s public safety expenses.

The special assessment, possible under Public Act 33 of 1951, would affect all real estate properties located within the city, except those exempt under the general property tax act, such as churches.

Benton Harbor Mayor James Hightower told the Michigan Citizen that he pushed hard to get the millage renewals passed.

“Had it been passed, we wouldn’t be in this predicament,” he said.

In a letter dated Nov. 19, Harris wrote that after paying $1.3 million in delinquent taxes in 2010-11, the city faces a cash shortage.

“Without additional revenues, the city will no longer be able to financially support its own police department,” Harris wrote in a city-wide letter dated Nov. 19.

According to the Herald-Palladium, Harris said in a press conference the city could face outsourcing its police work or bankruptcy if a way to make up the cash shortfall isn’t found. Bills have to be mailed to taxpayers by Dec. 31 to be in time for the winter tax roll. Harris could not be reached by press time.

The city must hold two public hearings at least 10 days apart, giving the public a chance to voice objection to the assessment. The first such hearing will be held Dec. 4 at 6 p.m. at the Business Growth Center, 200 Paw Paw, Benton Harbor.

According to a notice sent out by the city clerk, Harris will proceed with his plan without an election unless the owners of at least 10 percent of the land to be made into a special assessment district file a petition calling for one.

“I know something has to happen because I don’t see bankruptcy as an option,” Hightower said.

“In reality, I would have to reluctantly support (the special assessment) for the better of the city. We need public safety. … But I’m definitely making it known I am not at all happy with how business is being done with Joe Harris.”

Contact Mike Sandula at


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