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Updated: 10/10/2013 08:00:05AM

On the brink

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By Steve Bauer

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Imagine waking up to a burglar attempting to break into your home, and after calling 911 to alert authorities a firefighter shows up at your door to handle the case. Meanwhile, across town two city police officers are pulling victims out of a home engulfed in flames. Sounds pretty extreme and reckless, doesn’t it? For the residents of Benton Harbor, Michigan, however, it’s an all too real possibility, and a scary example of how swiftly and heavy-handed a state can be in fixing a city’s financial situation.

After years of Benton Harbor’s deficit spending and failed financial reform plans, the state dispatched an “emergency manager” to take control of the city. Steps taken included paying debts, laying off workers and a plan to merge the fire and police departments into a single unit. In addition, the city’s commissioners are only allowed to meet, approve the minutes of their meetings and to adjourn — but to conduct no real city business.

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