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Benton Harbor ‘out of intensive care’

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- After seven years under emergency management through the state, the city of Benton Harbor regained local control of itself over the weekend.

“We are on the road to recovery,” Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad said, in an exclusive interview Monday afternoon.

It’s been a long road to get to this point.

An emergency was declared by the state of Michigan back in February 2010 when a cash-strapped, struggling Benton Harbor was running out of options.

After seven years, several lawsuits, and two emergency managers, that chapter of the city’s history ended on July 1.

On the evening of July 3, the city commission was set to have its first meeting in nearly a decade where they will actually have the final say in decisions they make.

Mayor Muhammad said he was happy about turning a new page.

“Outside of the loan from the state, there was nothing done by the emergency managers that I would consider positive,” he said.

State control allowed Benton Harbor to deal with its debt.

The city is now paying back a $3 million loan, which it can afford, over 30 years.

City commissioners passed a balanced budget just last week.

And there is even some money in the bank.

But for the last seven years, every decision made in Benton Harbor by those in elected office had to be approved by the emergency manager.

Mayor Muhammad said local leadership will now be able to lead.

“That’s a major change where those five department heads are [now] accountable to those who the people elected,” he said.

But he admits their work is far from over.

Mayor Muhammad said Benton Harbor is in ‘dire’ need of generating new revenue.

While the city may be able to pay its bills now, everything from potholes to condemned houses still need to be addressed.

“We do have a long way to go,” he said. “However, we’re not where we were. We’re not what we want to be, but we’re in progress.”

To continue making progress, the Mayor Muhammad said he’s urging residents to get involved in their community by attending commission meetings, joining various boards, and pitching ideas to him of how to generate revenue. 

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