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Politics & Government

Benton Harbor Emergency Manager says city has “turned the corner”

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Benton Harbor's Emergency Manager Joe Harris (left) speaks with residents one-on-one following the public hearing on his budget Wednesday night.

Benton Harbor’s Emergency Manager says the city will be able to break even this budget year. Last year the city ran more than a million dollar deficit.

Emergency Manger Joe Harris says this year the city could run a $400,000 surplus.

“We’ve turned the corner. You don’t have to keep cutting if you have positive cash flow. Now we just need to expend or invest our money wisely.”

Most of those attending seemed relieved at the news. But following years of mismanagement, many residents remain skeptical.

Benton Harbor City Commissioner James Hightower says he trusts Harris.

“Before, you’d hear from the medics that they didn’t get their money. You’d hear from the county that they didn’t get their money. You’re not hearing that. You’re hearing “wow, we have gotten paid!” And ah, that’s important.”

The major saving came from moving the police and fire departments into a single public safety unit. Harris told the community at a town hall meeting Wednesday that he’s also paid off a couple hundred thousand dollars owed to the county and other local governments, but is still working to pay down a huge debt to the IRS and the city’s pension fund.

Harris plans to post his complete budget online by the end of the week. His next report on the budget isn’t due to the State of Michigan until this fall.

Harris says union concessions, changing the city charter and finding good people to replace him are his next big challenges.

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