Friday, November 4, 2011

Unable to pay bill, Mich. city turns off lights

Corey Williams
Associated Press

HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. (AP) -- As the sun dips below the rooftops each evening, parts of this Detroit enclave turn to pitch black, the only illumination coming from a few streetlights at the end of the block or from glowing yellow yard globes.

It wasn't always this way. But when the debt-ridden community could no longer afford its monthly electric bill, elected officials not only turned off 1,000 streetlights. They had them ripped out -- bulbs, poles and all. Now nightfall cloaks most neighborhoods in inky darkness.

"How can you darken any city?" asked Victoria Dowdell, standing in the halo of a light in her front yard. "I think that was a disgrace. She said the decision endangers everyone, especially people who have to walk around at night or catch the bus.

Highland Park's decision is one of the nation's most extreme austerity measures, even among the scores of communities that can no longer afford to provide basic services.

Other towns have postponed roadwork, cut back on trash collection and closed libraries, for example.

But to people left in the dark night after night, removing streetlights seems more drastic. And unlike many other cutbacks that can easily be reversed, this one appears to be permanent.

The city is $58 million in debt and has many more people than jobs, plus dozens of burned-out or vacant houses and buildings.

With fewer than 12,000 residents, its population has dwindled to half the level from 20 years ago.

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