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On second take, Benton Harbor voters approve “vital” operating millages

Benton Harbor City Hall front steps
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Benton Harbor City Hall

People in Benton Harbor voted overwhelmingly to raise property taxes to support city services in Tuesday’s election.

That’s after voters rejected a similar set of proposals last November.The city is already running in the red and the millage represents around 20-percent of the city’s income.

“You just can’t see me dancing in the streets on the radio,” Mayor James Hightower said over the phone Tuesday night, “It’s a great day in Benton Harbor.”

He says this time around, voters were better informed of the dire consequences if the millage failed again. He also thinks they had some better strategies this time around.

In November, the millage had to compete with major national races, state and local candidates and six statewide proposals.

“It was buried in all of that,” Hightower said, “Where this time it was a special election. We had an opportunity to go out and we had three town hall meetings, spoke to citizens, answered questions, got literature out.”

Hightower says the millage means Benton Harbor will be able to make progress in paying down debt while maintaining services. He

Hightower hopes the city’s finances will end up in good enough shape to turn over control of city operations to local elected leaders by the end of this year.

Benton Harbor’s Emergency Manager, who started on the job earlier this year, issued this statement.

"I would like to extend my sincere appreciation and gratitude to the citizens of Benton Harbor. These approved ballot measures will help restore financial stability to this great city. I would like to thank Mayor Hightower and Commissioner Muhammad for serving as co-chairs for the millage campaign; their leadership has been invaluable. I would also like to thank the city commission; their message of unity and progress has inspired a community and created much needed momentum to help solve the financial troubles we face. Although this millage is a huge milestone in solving the financial emergency in Benton Harbor, there remains much work to be done. I look forward to continued collaboration with the city commission and the residents of Benton Harbor. It will take all of us, working together, to truly move Benton Harbor forward."

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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