Nine American Cities Going Broke

4. Harrison, NJ
> Credit rating: Ba3
> 2009 revenues: $32,763,000
> 2009 debt: $92,613,000
> Median household income: $49,596

Harrison “issued a significant amount of debt to foster redevelopment, and continues to collect substantially less revenue from those developments than projected,” Moody’s explains. One of the largest projects is the $200 million Red Bull Arena, which was opened in March 2010 and cost the city $39 million in debt but has yet failed to have the expected returns. To help solve its debt problem, the city, which has a population of 13,620, plans to fire some police officers and firefighters.

3. Jefferson County, AL
> Credit rating: Caa1
> 2009 revenues: $309,440,000
> 2009 debt: $1,337,233,000
> Median household income: $44,718

Jefferson County’s debt, which is the second largest on this list, comes from a $3.2 billion overhaul of the county’s sewer system as well as a series of risky, controversial bond deals meant to help the county pay for the sewer work. A number of city officials have been sent to jail on corruption charges linked to the project. “The county defaulted on almost $3.5 million in 2008 — the biggest default in municipal history,” according to Moody’s. Worse still, this year, the Alabama Supreme Court invalidated the county’s occupational tax, which accounted for one quarter of the county’s total revenues.

2. Pontiac, MI
> Credit rating: Caa1
> 2009 revenues: $46,183,000
> 2009 debt: $99,115,000
> Median household income: $32,199

The source of Pontiac’s troubles is similar to that of Detroit’s. General Motors, which went bankrupt during the recession, is the city’s largest employer and taxpayer. The city has been in receivership since 2009. Also in 2009, the city sold its Silverdome stadium, which cost over $55 million to build, for $583,000. Such concessions have not been enough to raise the city’s rating.

1. Central Falls, RI
> Credit rating: Caa1
> 2009 revenues: $17,601,000
> 2009 debt: $18,753,000
> Median household income: $33,520

In August 2011, Central Falls declared bankruptcy largely because of the city’s pension plan, which promised $80 million in retirement benefits. According to the New York Times, the “pension fund will probably run out of money in October, giving Central Falls the distinction of becoming the second municipality in the United States to exhaust its pension fund, after Prichard, Ala.” This $80 million is approximately five times the city’s general fund budget.

Charles Stockdale