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Campaign over proposed income tax in Benton Harbor heats up

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- Benton Harbor voters will decide on Tuesday if they want a city income tax to help pay for desperately needed road and infrastructure repairs.

“As a resident, I don’t mind paying one penny on the dollar if it’s going to rebuild my community and improve the streets,” said Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad.

“[The city wants] someone else to pay for years of mismanagement,” said Bryan Joseph, spokesperson for ‘Citizens for a Strong Benton Harbor.’

The crumbling streets in Benton Harbor are the reason for ‘Vote Yes’ and ‘Vote No’ yard signs, billboards, Facebook groups and television commercials popping up throughout the city.

The city council voted back in July to put an income tax proposal on the November ballot.

The measure would tax city residents and businesses 1 percent of their income.

It would also charge people who work in Benton Harbor, but don’t live in the city, half a percent of the money they earn.

“We agree 100 percent with the city council that the roads and the infrastructure has to be addressed, has to be fixed,” said Joseph, who is also a former Benton Harbor city commissioner. “But the method in which the income tax has been proposed is not the best use of taxpayers’ money.”

Joseph and his group behind the ‘Vote No’ campaign are worried the income tax won’t generate the $2 million-per-year the city estimates it will.

Joseph also said he doesn’t think the council will end up spending the money in the right places.

He said there are other ways to fix the problem.

“There could be a special assessment,” Joseph said. “There could be a road millage. There could also be – looking at the state for grants. We could talk about selling some bonds.”

But Mayor Muhammad said the city already charges residents for several millages. And he said state funding the city receives has decreased in recent years.

“A resolution was passed [regarding the income tax proposal] specifying where those dollars can be allocated or used, which was streets, sidewalks, alleys, and emergencies as deemed by the council, which would have to be by majority vote,” Muhammad said.

The mayor said the income tax is a ‘no brainer’ in his opinion.

“It’s a formula where if everybody does a little, nobody has to do a lot,” he said. “So non-residents pay into the tax. 90 percent that work in Benton Harbor don’t live in Benton Harbor. So at 5 p.m., they take their tax dollars back to their communities, nice paved streets, while residents of Benton Harbor are dodging potholes nearly on every street.”

Muhammad admitted the city doesn’t know exactly how much money will come in if the income tax passes. But he said it would be better than what’s coming in now.

Joseph said no matter how people vote on Tuesday, his group wants to meet with the mayor and city council to figure out the best way to fix up the roads.

Last week, the Cornerstone Chamber of Commerce announced that it had surveyed 700 of its local business members, and 84 percent are opposed to the tax.

The chamber said local business owners are concerned the tax will hinder their ability to grow and hire more people.

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