Benton Harbor millage failure means cuts on the way

Benton Harbor will lose nearly half of its tax revenues after two millage renewals failed to pass Tuesday.

The measures would have generated more than $1 million for the struggling city, which has already seen drastic cuts.

"In terms of having a goal to move to local control by December 2013, that seems almost an impossibility when you have cut your tax revenues in half from when the crisis began," said Benton Harbor Mayor James Hightower.

Hightower says there was a strong push before election day to get the measures passed.

Fliers were handed out throughout town to help educate voters on the millage renewals.

"I think every elected official should have been an advocate for these millage renewals going through, but that was not the case," Hightower said. "You have individuals that were out actually promoting voting these down and I think that's reckless behavior."

Hightower says the two millage renewals account for about 20 percent of Benton Harbor's operating budget.

Such a large loss means cuts will have to be made by the city's Emergency Financial Manager, who couldn't be reached Wednesday night.

"I don't know how it's going to affect snow plowing or things of that nature," Hightower said. "You really don't know until you have to pay the bills. So, we'll see how that pans out. But, I'm sure it will affect how we do business in city services."

When asked where the EFM may cut, Hightower listed several options, including public safety and staffing.

But, many departments have already seen drastic reductions since the financial crisis, making it hard to continue cutting back.

"The greatest fear is for Benton Harbor to end up like Pontiac where they are selling off properties, city assets, things of that nature to pay their bills," Hightower said.

Hightower said he's waiting to hear back from the state and EFM to find out more about what will happen moving forward.

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