Most important news to emerge from Benton Harbor in decades. It looks like the city commission may actually pass this on Monday night. However, Whirlpool strikes fast and hard, so nothing's certain until the vote is taken. The mayor and 3 commissioners are "Whirlpool people." None of them were present at the public meeting.
Benton Harbor income tax proposal moves forward
Muhammad: If tax passes, advisory board will help manage how money is spent
Thursday, August 1, 2013
By Louise Wrege
BENTON HARBOR - If residents in November approve a city income tax, an advisory board of residents, nonresidents and business people will help manage the money, Commissioner Marcus Muhammad said.
His remarks came Wednesday evening during a meeting of the City Commission's Legislative Committee, which endorsed the income tax plan.
Muhammad, the committee's chairman, said a link on the city's website would be set up to show exactly where the revenue from the city income tax would go.
Committee members agreed to send the city income tax ordinance proposal and ballot language to the City Commission, which is expected to take up the matter Monday. All six city commissioners at Wednesday's committee meeting spoke in favor of the proposal.
For the proposal, the committee set the tax rate on corporations and residents at 1 percent and on nonresidents who work in the city at 0.5 percent.
"This (the city income tax) is a mechanism that allows everyone to do a little so no one has to do a lot," Muhammad said.
He said several businesses that receive tax breaks would have to pay the city income tax because there are no loopholes. Those businesses include Whirlpool, Atlantic Automotive and New Products.
He said the city income tax would also include money from the television revenue generated from the Senior PGA tournaments, which are scheduled to be at Harbor Shores in 2014, 2016 and 2018.
"This is not a 'go after business' legislation, because I also will be paying 1 percent as a resident of Benton Harbor," Muhammad said. "I have a wife. Six children at home. I have a lot on my plate.
"I work at Benton Harbor Area Schools, where I receive a skeleton salary. However, out of my love for Benton Harbor I'm willing to sacrifice more because my personal sacrifice falls into oblivion compared to the greater gain the city would capture," he said.
But not all nine of the city commissioners agree that a city income tax is a good idea. Mayor James Hightower was not at Wednesday's committee meeting, but he posted on his Facebook page Tuesday he did not support a city income tax.
When contacted by phone after Wednesday's meeting, he said he doesn't like talking about a city income tax, because even talking about it puts the city in a bad light and may dissuade developers and investors from coming to Benton Harbor.
"I just don't want to see another barrier put in place to disincentivize more development in Benton Harbor, when you can go just on the other side of the bridge and can do business for less," he said.
Hightower said businesses have choices and, when given a choice, they may decide to locate in a community that has lower water rates and doesn't have a city income tax.
The commissioners who support the city income tax proposal said they want businesses to think of it as a partnership with the city.
Commissioner MaryAlice Adams said at the committee meeting she is willing to sacrifice for the greater good.
"My husband and I own several pieces of property in Benton Harbor," Adams said. "We pay our fair share of taxes and are fully knowledgeable of the sacrifice that we're going to have to make. It's no secret that Benton Harbor is sitting on a sewer system that is over 100 years old. If we don't start doing something, the streets of Benton Harbor, well, they're not too far from looking like Third World countries that are less fortunate than we are."
After the meeting, Muhammad estimated that a city income tax would generate $2.5 million annually for the city. A study outlining the impact a city income tax would have on the city is expected to be done sometime in August.
"Monday will probably be the most important, crucial vote that the city of Benton Harbor has ever made in decades," said Commissioner Trenton Bowens, co-chairman of the Legislative Committee. "I believe this is only the beginning. The best is yet to come."
Comment: The Mayor is not showing the leadership needed for Benton Harbor when he does not show up a for a crucial committee meeting where he can publicly express his position on the city tax proposal. Instead, the Mayor has decided to write a letter on Facebook? This is not the leadership needed for Benton Harbor to move forward.
But Committee Co-Chairs, Commissioners Marcus Muhammad and Trenton Bowens are providing the necessary leadership and vision that will contribute to not only the economic development of Benton Harbor, but move the city forward and allow BH to become financially viable!