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Repo man seizes city streetlights

A Michigan city couldn't pay $4 million in past-due bills, so the power company took out most of the streetlight poles to settle the debt.

By Karen Datko Oct 11, 2011 5:37PM

Updated Oct. 12, 2:07 p.m. ET


Things are so bad for the city of Highland Park, Mich., that the power company has removed 1,400 streetlight poles.


The action is "part of a settlement that lets the city avoid paying $4 million in unpaid bills going back several years," CBS Detroit reports.


The overall plan will cut the city's $62,000 monthly bill to $15,000, The Detroit News says.


This small city -- where the motto is "Return to Excellence" -- knows hard times. "50% enrollment drop has Highland Park schools in crisis," the city said on its Twitter feed.


But municipal money shortages are increasingly common these days -- with each struggling city facing its own set of financial challenges. Some examples:

  • Vallejo, Calif., was likely the first municipal bankruptcy in recent years. It filed in 2008 at an eventual cost of $9.5 million in legal fees and still has to pay many of its debts.
  • The city of Central Falls, R.I., filed for bankruptcy in August. "Central Falls got into trouble, above all, by promising its police and firefighters generous retirement benefits without setting aside enough money to pay for them," The New York Times says. Post continues after video.
  • The county that's home to Birmingham has averted bankruptcy -- so far. "Jefferson County, Alabama, commissioners approved a provisional agreement with holders of $3.14 billion of sewer debt to avert what would have been the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history," Bloomberg reported last month.
  • The town of Gurley, Ala., is preparing for possible bankruptcy as it faces a nearly $5 million judgment after losing a court case, reports The Huntsville Times.
  • Harrisburg, the state capital of Pennsylvania, was declared "financially distressed" when it couldn't pay $310 million in debt accumulated by an incinerator project. The city has now reportedly filed for bankruptcy protection.

A Business Insider story from late last year explained some of the common causes of municipal stress, which has led to widespread cutbacks in city services:

First, the expiration of Build America Bonds will make it harder for cities to raise funds. Second, city revenues are crashing and keep getting worse. Property taxes haven't reflected the total damage from the housing crash. High joblessness is cutting into city revenues, while increasing costs for services.

What's to become of Highland Park, a town of about 14,000 that's surrounded by Detroit, which has more than its share of economic woes?


It's not a total blackout at night. DTE Energy is installing 200 poles at intersections with higher-efficiency lights, which will leave the city with 500 streetlights total. Otherwise, streets will be dark unless residents keep their outside lights on. That might be difficult in a town with a median household income of about $18,000 a year. 


Mayor Hubert Yopp says most burglaries in town occur during the day, but residents and business owners are leery. Three schools were burglarized at night right after the lights went out, a school official told The Detroit News.


More on MSN Money:

Oct 11, 2011 8:55PM

obama has no control over city budgets...thats a local failure



but thanks for trying



some peoples kids

Oct 11, 2011 9:21PM
Streetlights are a waste of energy. Often they shine light up into the sky or glare in your eyes. I say shut them off and enjoy the stars at night. Most Americans have never seen the Milky Way.

All fingers point to the president. We fail to take note that our local government  has a lot to do with how the money is spent . Our people in congress are so blind that they cant come to terms with each other. Obama has nothing to do with the city not paying their bill. The Mayor and his little boys had a lot to do with it . Congress is sitting back fighting everyday over what needs to go and what needs to stay. Our President is saying :Get er Done" and they just laugh at him.Its not his fault.... Wake up America..our greedy pockets put us here in this mess.The labor unions are going under because they bargen themselves right out of a job, When is "enought" going to be enough?


Oct 11, 2011 9:11PM
Obama has been ineffective while in office. It's too bad as many of his ideas could have really helped this country.
I guess that when the opposition to the president is able to mount a complete boycott against the highest office in the land the entire country can be brought to it's knees.
It is amazing that Obama has instilled this strong of hatred from the first day in office.
Whoever gets the top job in 2012 - God help them.
It will take decades to get us out of this mess and that's if the politicians will begin working on the countries behalf.
Oct 12, 2011 12:56AM
The city didn't remove the streetlights, the power company removed the streetlights because the city stopped paying for them. And if the city can't afford to continue paying for the lights they won't be able to afford to pay anybody to install solar panels on them.

Unless you're advocating bringing back slavery, nobody's going to do the work for free. Especially because they will have to be installed with union labor which will triple the price it should normally cost.

Oct 12, 2011 7:45PM
there are solutions out there, its union labor that took the poles down. poles financed through advertisement on it would have helped with this issues. slavery is not suggested but common sense is. no one is advocating slavery. private sector has solutions. its the city that is to blame, since they waste money and then blame it on lack of fund. wasteful spending is causing this lack of funds. its with every city that's to blame for wasteful spending.
Oct 11, 2011 10:54PM

Its a bad idea to remove poles for failure to collect money. The poles should be installed with solar panels on top with light under it. city officials are stupid they have spent more in taking down the poles. this is the reason why our officials in all levels of public services don't see solutions. this was a easy fix. stupid, stupid and stupid. this poles could have free energy from the sun to power the light. small investment can go long ways. this shows how government operates. by taking down the poles, they increased crime and security. its not obama;s policy at work here, its uneducated official elected to office with no solutions. block minded people.

its waste of public money to take down the poles. other idea was to rent the poles for advertisement. i am sure wall mart would have like to finance solar poles around the city with their advertisement on it. elect good educated officials. they wrongly are penalizing citizens by removing the poles.

Oct 11, 2011 8:53PM
this is where logic should override protocol. how can a city function without streetlights? although there are headlights and people should use them, what about signals for pedestrians or bikes?
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