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Benton Harbor EFM will consider special fee to fund public safety

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

Benton Harbor Emergency Financial Manager Joe Harris will consider charging property owners a special fee to pay for the city’s police department. The decision comes two weeks after voters rejected a millage renewal worth 20-percent of the city’s income.

At a press conference earlier this week, Harris outlined four rather dismal options; including eliminating the police department or asking the state to just allow Benton Harbor to declare bankruptcy.

Now Harris says in a written statement he’ll ask residents for feedback on a special assessment district for public safety instead:

After considerable and careful deliberation, I have concluded that it would be a dereliction of my obligation to the citizens of Benton Harbor to deny them an opportunity to voice their opinions as to whether the City should continue to provide its own Police protection. Upon sharing my opinion with the State Treasurer, we both agree that it would be prudent for me to hold public hearings to receive input from citizens on whether the expired millage should be replaced with a public safety special assessment, which would allow the City to continue to fund its public safety operations and maintenance.

Harris cannot raise taxes without city commission approval. The fee isn’t technically a tax so Harris would not need elected city leaders to approve the decision in order to implement it. And unlike the millage voters rejected, the fee would apply to all property owners, not just non-homestead properties.

Harris has to hold two public hearings to get community input, but they haven’t been scheduled yet.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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