Joe Harris fails to put millage on August primary ballot
Harris ponders fix for shortfall
Seeks $1.2 million to save BH police department
in wake of voters' rejection of millage renewals
Thursday, November 15, 2012 By Kate Genellie
[Comments throughout article in caps]
BENTON HARBOR - Benton Harbor's emergency financial manager is putting together a plan to address a shortfall resulting from voters' rejection last week of an operating millage for $1.2 million.
HARRIS NEVER INFORMED RESIDENTS ABOUT THE MILLAGE. HE DIDN'T MAKE THE CASE, AND IS SURPRISED IT WAS REJECTED? IF YOU WANT MONEY FROM PEOPLE WHO HAVE ALMOST NONE, YOU NEED TO REACH OUT. INFORM. HARRIS TALKS ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY TO WHIRLPOOL.
Emergency Manager Joseph Harris will speak at a press conference at 4 p.m. Monday at 200 Paw Paw in Benton Harbor. The public was mistakenly notified through a legal advertisement in The Herald-Palladium taken out by the city that a public hearing would be held at that time, Harris said.
Instead, he will talk to media representatives about the city's financial situation and hand out information to the public. AGAIN, HARRIS REFUSES TO TALK TO THE PUBLIC.
HARRIS'S BIGGEST MISTAKE: FAILING TO PUT THIS ON THE AUGUST BALLOT.
"I'll be busy between now and Monday putting a plan together to address the city's crisis," Harris said. HARRIS HAS SPENT MORE TIME CREATING CRISES AS E.M. THAN HE HAS AS PROBLEM-SOLVER AND PUBLIC SERVANT. The plan could include levying a special assessment to make up for the lost money, he said. HE DOES NOT HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO LEVY TAXES. The city needed financial help even before the millage was struck down, Harris said, because the city owes $3 million in various obligations and about $5 million more to the city's underfunded pensions. HARRIS HAS MISMANAGED BH. HE PREVIOUSLY STATED "BH IS NO LONGER IN THE RED." NOW THINGS ARE DIFFERENT? WITH HARRIS, IT'S DIFFERENT EVERY WEEK. "Now we don't have what we had," Harris said. On Election Day Benton Harbor voters struck down a 9.7499-mill renewal, with a 0.2501-mill increase to make up for Headlee Amendment rollbacks and restore the millage to 10 mills. The tax expired in December and was mistakenly left off the November 2011 ballot. That millage would have raised about $1.2 million when levied this year. THE MISTAKE WAS MADE BY HARRIS (emphasis added.) Voters also rejected a 2.0694-mill renewal that would have raised about $242,400 when levied in 2013. This year the city has collected $1.2 million less in taxes than it collected last year. If the larger millage had been approved in November 2011, the city would have collected the money by now. It was the larger millage that Harris focused on in an interview Wednesday. "It was no big deal that it was delayed," Harris said Wednesday, adding that he was able to rearrange the budget to accommodate the mistake. "The big deal is it was rejected." HARRIS SAYS IT'S NO BIG DEAL BECAUSE HE IS THE ONE WHO MADE THE MISTAKE. HE MAY HAVE DONE IT ON PURPOSE. (SURE, IT'S EVERYBODY'S FAULT BUT HIS.) Without the larger millage the city's winter tax revenues are minimal. "There's nothing coming in," Harris said. "So we need to do something, we need to do something immediately." Harris said he's working on a plan to levy a special assessment to make up for the failed larger millage. Harris said he didn't want to offer many details on the plan because he is still discussing it with the city's attorney and assessor. THIS IS ILLEGAL. Special assessments are charges for a specific city improvement or service that are levied on the property owners whose properties benefit from that service, according to the Michigan Department of Treasury. Harris said he's considering levying a special assessment on property owners to replace the lost $1.2 million from the larger millage, and the money would go toward the city's Public Safety Department. If a city can't generate money to cover its costs, it has to cut, Harris said. HARRIS HAS CUT EVERYTHING; HE HIRED HIS FRIENDS; THE CITY HALL IS MOSTLY WHITE NOW. But in Benton Harbor, where every department has been reduced - often by half - "there is no place else to cut," Harris said. THANKS TO HARRIS. "We would have to eliminate the police department," he said. The Public Safety Department costs the city about $2 million per year. If the department were eliminated, Berrien County would have to provide police coverage, Harris said. THAT'S BEEN THE WP PLAN FROM THE START - HARRIS IS THE WHIRLPOOL TOADIE. "We're just trying to keep our heads above water and pay our bills as they come due," Harris said. "It costs $6 million to run this city." kgenellie@TheHP.com