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Debt-laden Detroit makes one last bid to avert fiscal takeover by state

Detroit officials on Tuesday argued against handing over fiscal control of the city to a state-appointed emergency manager, citing an agreement already in place to repair city finances. Governor's final decision on next step is expected this week. 

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City Council representative Edward Keelan speaks at a hearing in the Treasury Department over the appointment of an Emergency Financial Manager for Detroit on Tuesday in Lansing.

Dale G. Young/Detroit News/AP

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Officials from the nearly bankrupt city of Detroit made a last-ditch attempt Tuesday to stave off losing control of city finances to a state-appointed emergency manager, arguing that more time is needed for fixes applied as a result of a state-city agreement last summer to show results.

Their appeal, made at a one-hour hearing in Lansing, Mich., the state capital, is the last step before Gov. Rick Snyder (R) gives final word on whether he will name an emergency financial manager to intervene in Detroit's finances in a bid to cope with its huge debt and continuing deficit. Most city officials have resisted such a draconian step ever since it became clear in late 2011, when Detroit almost did not make its payroll, that the Motor City was in dire straits. Governor Snyder is expected to say later this week what he will do.

If Snyder does appoint an outsider to seize control of the city's finances, Detroit will make history as the largest city in the US to be directly controlled by an emergency financial manager. 

On Tuesday, Detroit finance officers said the consent agreement between the city and the state of Michigan, signed last year, establishes benchmarks for progress and a monitoring process, and that the state should stick with it.

“In my neighborhood, we were taught a deal is a deal … we have a deal on the table and it’s not over,” said David Whitaker, Detroit’s director of research and analysis.

Earlier this month, the governor declared that the city is in a state of financial emergency, citing findings from a state review team that Detroit has had annual deficits since 2005 that it unsuccessfully sought to fix through long-term borrowing. Not even counting debt repayment, the city’s deficit for the fiscal year ending in June is set to total $937 million. The review team also said the city has amassed $14.9 billion in long-term debt, primarily from unfunded pension and employee retirement benefits including health care.

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