Outgoing EFM warns of need for Benton Harbor tax hike

Benton Harbor’s Emergency Financial Manager may be leaving, but the city’s financial problems aren’t going anywhere.

“People are going to have to accept the fact that they’ve got to generate some more revenue,” said outgoing EFM Joseph Harris. “There are going to have to be some higher taxes.”

Harris was talking about the city’s under-funded pension plan. “There’s no money to pay the pension, it’s not there, I defy you to find $1 million in this $6.5 million budget.”

While Harris said he loves Benton Harbor and is sad to go, his mood today was not somber. In fact, Harris began his press conference by playing a pre-recorded song over the sound system called, “Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone,” by Sammy Davis, Jr.

Harris also addressed “rumors” that he did not get along with the elected members of the Benton Harbor City Commission. “Now, if you believe that, it’s because it’s true. It’s not the way I wanted it, it’s not the way I desired it, and I will tell you that there are commissioners as well as staff that will tell you that I tried to mend some fences, but that never worked.”

While Harris spent much of his time cutting the budget, today he also talked about some of the spending he did to improve the quality of life in Benton Harbor. He cited several park improvements that included a new pool and a downtown ice rink, and a complete renovation of the chambers of the Benton Harbor City Commission.

Harris was so geared toward reductions during his tenure that he managed to reduce his own waistline by 37 pounds.

Harris will leave his post at the end of January. The transition will begin on Monday, when Harris says he’s scheduled to have lunch with his replacement, Tony Saunders II.

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