Nightly News   |  January 15, 2012

Cities face hard times

Some U.S. cities are taking drastic measures -- even selling off assets – to stay afloat. NBC’s John Yang reports.

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>>> cities and towns across america are beginning the new year just where they left off, in 2011 , strapped for cash, and facing huge budget deficits . and nowhere is the problem tougher than in michigan . nbc's john yang takes a look at some of the extreme steps cities there are taking to stay afloat.

>> reporter: in pontiac , michigan , city hall can be bought, literally. so can the library, the police station , even the two city-owned cemeteries. what else is on the list?

>> everything. all of the city on real estate is on that list.

>> reporter: this detroit suburb was once home of the nfl's detroit lions , and big gm car and truck plants. the last of them is now being torn down. here in pontiac , the decline of the auto industry has meant a decline in tax revenues and staggering city budget deficits . so now the city government is downsizing. the police and fire departments have been contracted out to other communityies. at city hall , a whole floor has been mothballed.

>> the whole building is 30% too big.

>> reporter: there are no asking prices. anyone interested should just make them an offer. the mayor says the point isn't so much raising cash as it is cutting costs.

>> the value comes in no longer having to maintain and heat and cool the buildings.

>> reporter: so far, developers expressed interest in a downtown parking lot, but that's about it. and it's not just pontiac . experts say cities nationwide are just now feeling the harshest effects of the recession.

>> 2012 will likely the worst year that the cities have seen in two or three decades in terms of the collection of revenues.

>> reporter: basic services are on the chopping block , detroit's closed its police precincts to the public from 4:00 p.m . to 8:00 a.m . highland park , michigan , shut off more than 70% of its streetlights to settle a $4 million utility bill. come sundown, whole neighborhoods go dark. this church had to reschedule services.

>> if you're driving down the street, you won't even be able to see people walking on the sidewalk or trying to cross the streets. it is very dangerous.

>> reporter: analysts say it could be several years before cities like this begin to see brighter financial times . john yang , nbc news, highland park , michigan .