Benton Harbor residents weigh in on millage proposals

Benton Harbor residents got their first chance to weigh in on two millage proposals Tuesday night that will appear on the May 7 special election ballot.

Back in November, they shot down similar proposals, costing Benton Harbor nearly half its tax revenue and forcing residents to undergo a Public Safety Special assessment in December.

City leaders say if passed, the millage proposals would eliminate the special assessment and help recoup some of the revenue loss.

The first proposal would restore the city's charter millage to 10 mills, an increase of nearly 2.1 mills.

The second proposal would restore the city's general operating millage of 10 mills, which expired in 2011.

If passed, the two measures would generate over $1.3 million in the first year.

"It's in the citzen's best interest, it's in the city's best interest," said Benton Harbor Mayor James Hightower. "And, then too with the state moving forward to eliminate personal property tax, and them paying us 80 percent of what we levied, if we don't levy anything, there goes our 80 percent."

Hightower and other city leaders will campaign up until May 7 to get residents to vote "Yes" to the proposals.

They plan to setup a campaign headquarters where residents can come for information and support materials.

City leaders will also present the proposals at public meetings throughout the city over the next several weeks so residents get the right information.

The city's Emergency Financial Manager, Tony Saunders, says the millages will allow him to better forecast the city's revenues over the next year, helping to balance the budget.

"We have a $2.2 million deficit," Saunders said. "And, we're projected to increase that by $600,000 this year alone. We do need some revenue in the form of these millages we're requesting."

All of the residents who spoke out at Tuesday's public forum voiced their support of the millage proposals, saying it's a step toward financial independence for the city.

Several applauded city leaders for putting aside their difference and working together on what's best for Benton Harbor.

"I'd like to compliment the city on its effort to get the word out," said one resident. "The last time the millage was out, there was absolutely no word whatsoever other than negative campaigning, a lot of misinformation."

Hightower says the city will advertise upcoming public presentations on the millages when the dates are finalized.

You can view the city's presentation on the millage proposals by clicking on the document attached to this story.

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