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Benton Harbor

Benton Harbor Area Schools Central Adminstration building
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

The fight for Benton Harbor High School is still alive.

The Benton Harbor school board rejected the state’s plan to close the high school.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Today is the deadline Gov. Gretchen Whitmer set for a deal to be reached between her administration and the Benton Harbor Area Schools board over the district’s future.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Chanting “Save our school,” Benton Harbor parents, students and elected leaders brought their campaign to keep the city’s high school open to the governor’s office Tuesday.

The state is proposing shutting down Benton Harbor’s high school as part of plan to eliminate the district’s multi-million dollar debt.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Members of the school board for Benton Harbor Area Schools say they plan to submit a plan to Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday to try to save the city’s high school.

The governor’s office says the district is $18.4 million in debt. She says closing the high school will save money and keep the entire district from dissolving. 

Kevin Cronin

Today on Stateside, Governor Gretchen Whitmer says that Benton Harbor Area Schools have until June 14 to submit a plan to keep their high school open. If not, the state could choose to dissolve the entire district. Plus, Northern Michigan University is working to provide affordable Internet access to students in need. 

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says leaders at Benton Harbor Area Schools will get an extra week to come up with a plan to keep the district’s high school open. Whitmer took two hours of comments and questions during a town hall with residents in Benton Harbor on Wednesday.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Governor Whitmer is expected in Benton Harbor this afternoon for a town hall meeting about the city’s school district. Whitmer’s administration says Benton Harbor High School must shut down to keep the district out of financial insolvency.

Hundreds gathered in the city last night to oppose that plan.

Some drove in from around the state where schools have closed in the past.

outside of Benton Harbor High School
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration is proposing to close Benton Harbor High School in fall 2020 and send students elsewhere in the corner of southwestern Michigan.

State Treasurer Rachael Eubanks says, "Sitting back and doing nothing is not an option."

Multiple potholes along a concrete road.
User: Pearl Pirie / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Today on Stateside, Benton Harbor's emerging problem with lead in drinking water, and what it tells us about the risk of lead in other Michigan communities. Plus, the city of Midland is documenting its unique, and massive, treasure trove of mid-century modern architecture. So far, they've found more than 400 structures. 

Listen to the full show above or find individual segments below. 

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

William Thomas opens the front door of his house on the south side of Benton Harbor and leads the way to the kitchen.

He has a white goatee, and he has on a dark grey collared shirt and gold rimmed glasses.

He sits down at a round table with a stack of papers stuck to a clipboard. He pulls one out, a white sheet that was sent to him in the mail last fall.

A graph shows three years of test results for lead in water, with the most recent tests, in 2018, clearly being the most elevated.
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

Benton Harbor is offering to test the water at any home in the city, after initial tests showed elevated levels of lead in eight homes.

Benton Harbor City Hall front steps
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

An officer who authorities say ran over a man who was fleeing police in southwestern Michigan has been charged with assault.

The Berrien County prosecutor's office says Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety officers were investigating a possible stolen lawn mower about 1:45 a.m. May 10 when they came upon a man who was riding a bike without a light.

The prosecutor's office says the man dropped the bike and ran before Steven Johnson, who no longer works for the department, intentionally hit him with a squad car.

City Hall in Benton Harbor.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - No charges will be filed in the fatal shooting of a Benton Harbor man by a police officer.

Berrien County prosecutor Michael Sepic says the officer acted in self-defense in the death of 28-year-old Darius Wimberly in October.

Video showed Benton Harbor officers outside a house to investigate a report of someone being held at gunpoint. There was no incident, but shots were suddenly fired by someone nearby.

Benton Harbor City Hall front steps
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The state has fully relinquished oversight of Benton Harbor, six years after the city was placed under emergency management to address a budget deficit.

Friday's decision followed a recommendation from a state-appointed receivership transition advisory board.

The southwestern Michigan city will manage operations and finances without oversight. City council ordinances no longer need approval of the board that was appointed in 2014 once emergency management ended.

Both Gov. Rick Snyder and former Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed emergency managers in Benton Harbor.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The city of Flint has hired a new chief financial officer with experience with troubled city finances.

Jody Lundquist comes to Flint from Benton Harbor, where she was the city’s finance director. Like Flint, Benton Harbor spent years being run by an emergency manager, appointed by the governor to fix the city’s money problems.

Benton Harbor exited direct oversight more than  a year ago. Flint did the same a few months back.

One of Benton Harbor’s old emergency managers is expected to head to federal court next month.

Tony Saunders was Benton Harbor’s emergency manager from January 2013 until he declared the financial emergency over, in March 2014.

Benton Harbor High School
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

For years, kids have been leaving Benton Harbor schools in droves.

Meanwhile, per-pupil money from the state has been flat. 

Now the school district has signed a consent agreement with the state to wipe out a $15 million deficit.

Ask school board member Joseph Taylor how Benton Harbor schools got here, and he says, simple:

"It's what's called debt. You know, we had an $18 million deficit. We knocked it down some, but the state only gives you so much time. And when that time ran out, we had to consider other options."

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Benton Harbor Board of Education may take a step this evening toward getting its financial house in order. 

Benton Harbor Area Schools faces a $15 million deficit.

Last month, a state panel determined the school district is in a "financial emergency."

Monday, the state Treasury department announced that an agreement has been crafted that will “restore financial stability to Benton Harbor Area Schools as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

As part of the agreement, a consultant will assist district leaders in implementing the plan.

chalkboard
Sharon Drummond / Flickr

A state loan board will choose between two competing proposals to give a short-term bridge loan to the Detroit Public Schools. One is from the district’s emergency manager. The other is an alternative proposed by the school board.

The district is under the control of an emergency manager while it digs out of a deficit. The district’s teachers are opposing a plan to close 24 schools and cut their pay by 10%. This would be the second round of pay cuts for Detroit teachers.

Gov. Rick Snyder says the district’s troubles require tough choices.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING – Michigan is helping provide lower interest rates to first-time homebuyers in eight cities.

About 300 individual or families in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint, Pontiac, Saginaw, Battle Creek, Benton Harbor, and Jackson can take advantage of a program announced Friday.

First-time homebuyers who meet eligibility requirements can get a 3.125% mortgage interest rate without down payment assistance. If they need help with their down payment, the interest rate is 3.625%.

Gov. Rick Snyder says he wants to increase home sales in five cities hit hard by blight and three other cities needing a boost.

Michigan State Housing Development Authority Executive Director Scott Woosley says most of Michigan's real estate market has bounced back, but some areas are still experiencing significant sales declines.

Wikimedia Commons

The city of Benton Harbor is no longer in a financial emergency. Gov. Snyder today announced the appointment of a Receivership Transition Advisory Board.

Behind the turnaround is Benton Harbor’s former emergency manager, Tony Saunders II. He spoke with the host of All Thing Considered, Jennifer White.


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Gov. Rick Snyder says Benton Harbor's financial emergency is over.

It's been four years since the state appointed an emergency manager to run the city's finances. 

Snyder attributes Benton Harbor's success, in part, to the new emergency manager law he signed after voters repealed a former version. The law gives managers broad powers to fix the finances of the cities and school districts. 

Snyder also gives Benton Harbor's most recent emergency manager credit for building trust in the community.

Listen to the audio above.  

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Benton Harbor’s emergency manager is planning his exit. That’s after the state agreed to loan the city more than $2 million.

When Benton Harbor officially began its financial emergency, Jennifer Granholm was the governor. During the last four years, the city has operated under three different versions of Michigan’s emergency manager law. That’s how long it’s been.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Elected leaders in Benton Harbor are rejecting the emergency manager’s plan to take on debt to pay down the city’s deficit.

Benton Harbor has been under state control for three years. It's cut its deficit by a third; from $3.4 million in 2010 to $1.2 million, according to the latest audit.

Mercedes Mejia/Michigan Radio

Benton Harbor residents rejected the idea of an income tax in their community. The vote was 667 opposed and 543 in favor. The city has long struggled with budget problems and is under a state-appointed emergency manager.

Fox 28 reports on the reaction from Benton Harbor's Mayor:

Mayor James Hightower says he's elated that the tax failed.

Commissioner Trenton Bowens says his camp is not giving up, they'll work to get the proposal back on the ballot in May.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A southwest Michigan city under state control will decide whether to impose a new city income tax in Tuesday's election. An emergency manager has been running Benton Harbor since March 2010.

If the proposal passes, people who live or work in Benton Harbor will pay a small percentage of their income to the city government. More than 20 other Michigan cities have an income tax.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Tony Saunders is breaking months of silence on a proposed city income tax. Saunders says he has some concerns about the proposal.

“I want to make sure we have a strong climate for business investment here. Also, you know this is one of the poorest cities in Michigan, so the last thing I want to see is our citizens being taxed once again when they’re already struggling to make ends meet,” Saunders said.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Elected leaders in Benton Harbor have a lot more convincing to do if they want to get a city-wide income tax on the November ballot.

Supporters of the income tax proposal aren’t sure exactly what the rate would be or how the money would be spent. They have general ideas, but that ambiguity makes business owners nervous.

“If they really want to do something like this they really have to have the trust of the citizenry and the business community that they will, in fact, spend the dollars that they earn in the way in which they say that they’ll spend them,” said Pat Moody, Executive Director of the Cornerstone Chamber of Commerce.  

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.

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