Financial Manager says emergency over in Benton Harbor - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

Financial Manager says emergency over in Benton Harbor

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The City of Benton Harbor's financial emergency is over.  That according to Emergency Manager Tony Saunders.  The state announced Saunders recommended the city transition out of state financial control on Friday.

Benton Harbor was put under state receivership in April of 2010.  Former Detroit Chief Financial Officer Joseph Harris was appointed by Governor Snyder as the City's first financial manager.  Saunders took over the roll a year ago.

"The City's accumulated deficit has been eliminated, expenditures have been reduced substantially, and the City has made 100-percent of its annual pension payments for the first time in a decade," said Saunders in a written statement

Saunders is not concerned about a possible return to Benton Harbors previous financial troubles any time soon.  He told FOX28 that three major factors make him optimistic for the city's financial future.  He said the city has a substantial fund in place, new mechanisms have been put in place to protect the pension fund, and a Transition Advisory Board will be appointed to help guide city government through the transition.

Additionally, Saunders said part of his final order as Emergency Manager was to mandate annual training for city commissioners in financial management.

There are still concerns about the city's failing infrastructure.  Saunders said one of the first priorities for the city manager will be to develop a 6-year plan for capital improvement.

If Saunders' recommendation is approved by the Governor, a Receivership Transition Advisory Board will be appointed to help move the city back to local control.

Benton Harbor Mayor James Hightower said it's bittersweet to see Saunders go but it's time.  "It is time to move forward with the City Commission taking the reigns."

Although he's still not quite sure how this will all turn out.  "I think the city at this point is at a wait and see stage," said Hightower.

Mayor Hightower said certain things will need to happen to ensure the city doesn't go backwards.  He said the City Commission will need to allow the City Manager, Finance Director and others to do their job.  And he also said the Commission will need to get expert advice when decisions need to be made.

Marcus Muhammad is currently a City Commissioner who also just recently said he's running against Hightower in an upcoming recall election.  He said the Commission is ready to govern again.  "I think the City Commission can show we're mature and we do have the where with all to move Benton Harbor Forward."

But he's still a little apprehensive about having an advisory board in place during the transition.  "It puts a different layer of oversight with a treasury advisory board so we still would be under microscopic surveillance from the state."

Mayor Hightower on the other hand said it's the right step.  "I think it puts an added check in place."

The Governor does still have to act on this.  That's expected to happen sometime next week.  And if he does in fact appoint an advisory board it'll be up to him how long that board is in place in Benton Harbor.

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