Benton Harbor voters overwhelmingly approve millage proposals

Benton Harbor voters overwhelmingly approved two millage proposals during a special election Tuesday that will generate more than $1 million for the struggling city in the first year.

Nearly 87 percent of voters supported a measure to restore the city’s charter millage to 10 mills.

And, about 85 percent of voters said ‘yes’ to a proposal that will restore the city’s general operating millage, which expired in 2011.

“Do you want to see me dancing in the streets?” Benton Harbor Mayor James Hightower said of the millages being approved. “It's a beautiful day for it. And, I might just do that.”

Residents rejected similar proposals on the November 2012 ballot, costing Benton Harbor nearly half of its tax revenue. Hightower says this time around he worked with city commissioners and Emergency Financial Manager Tony Saunders to get more information to the public. They held three town hall meetings to explain what the millage proposals would mean for the city and its residents.

“It’s going to mean we can have a stable budget,” Hightower said. “It's going to definitely keep us from having to have layoffs.”

Because the millages were approved Tuesday, residents won’t have to undergo another Public Safety Special Assessment like they did in December. Hightower says that will save residents money; the average Benton Harbor resident will pay $28 more per year with the restored millages instead of about $76 more if they’d undergone another special assessment.

Many Benton Harbor voters say they were in favor of the proposals because they’re hopeful it will get the city back on track financially.

“I think this is a step in the right direction,” said resident Ron Singleton. “The financial manager don't want to stay here a long time, so I think we need to do this to get back local control.”

In a statement Tuesday night, Saunders thanked the mayor and commissioners for their work on getting the measures passed. He said, “Their message of unity and progress has inspired a community and created much needed momentum to help solve the financial troubles we face.”

But, Saunders acknowledged there is still much work to be done to get Benton Harbor in good financial shape.

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