Benton Harbor asks residents to help save police department

City officials in Benton Harbor hosted a public meeting Tuesday night to ask the public to vote yes on two proposed millage increases on May 7.

The last time these came up for a vote, there were not enough votes to pass the millage increases, which meant city officials had to come up with another way to pay for services like public safety.

"By it failing in the last election, it left us with a significant deficit in terms of taxable revenues, and therefore, we had to do a special assessment in December," said Benton Harbor Mayor James Hightower.

The result was that residents ended up paying more.

"To pass the millage, a homeowner with a house [that's valued at] $27,000 would only be paying 28 dollars [a year.] With a special assessment, they'd have to pay 78 dollars a year," said Hightower.

Residents said they were glad the city took the time to present this information to them Tuesday night.

"Last time we didn't show up due to misinformation and bad politics, and it cost some people," said Corey Bell, a Benton Harbor resident.

In November, the city considered disbanding the Benton Harbor police department, because the city was running out of money to pay for it. Now, they say if residents vote to approve the two millage proposals, this will increase the city's general fund 10 to 12 percent and eliminate the threat of losing the community's police department.

"We won't have to outsource to Berrien County or rely on other agencies to come in to police our streets," said Marcus Muhammad, city commissioner.

The money will not only pay for services like public safety, but also for infrastructure improvements, such as fixing potholes. City officials said they held the meeting to allow people to ask questions about the proposals and make sure voters understand what is at stake if they don't approve the millage increases.

"There will be some significant cuts, significant cuts if this doesn't pass," said Hightower.


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