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After 3 years with an emergency manager, Benton Harbor considers an income tax

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

The city of Benton Harbor has been under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager for more than three years. Now some elected leaders in the state’s poorest city are proposing a new way to raise revenue.

Benton Harbor has done a lot to try to get out of debt; laid off workers, combined the police and fire departments, restructured its loans. But City Commissioner Trenton Bowens is convinced the city of roughly 10,000 people needs a citywide income tax.

“This is our chance to take ownership of Benton Harbor and fix the issues and problems that we’re experiencing ourself,” Bowens said.

People who live or work in the city would have to pay the tax, if approved. Whirlpool, the world’s largest appliance maker, is based in Benton Harbor.

It’s not clear exactly what the rate will be yet. More than 20 cities in Michigan already impose an income tax. Most have a rate of 1% on residents and 0.5% on nonresidents. Grand Rapids, Detroit, Saginaw, and Highland Park have higher rates.

Bowens says some business owners in Benton Harbor have expressed mixed feelings about a proposed income tax. But he says during public discussions he’s been hosting this summer residents seem more willing to support it.

“If I’m a business owner I want to invest in a city that has good infrastructure, that’s able to market itself and that’s able to generate revenue and not be labeled as a poor cash strapped city,” Bowens said. He says he hasn’t heard of an alternative way to get the city out of debt.

Bowens will host another town hall style meeting to discuss the proposal on Monday at 6p.m. at Benton Harbor City Hall.

Benton Harbor’s Emergency Manager Tony Saunders will not say yet whether he would support the proposal.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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