San Bernardino, the California community whose government is the subject of a criminal probe, postponed declaring a fiscal emergency, a step needed to seek bankruptcy court protection without a mediation period.

The City Council in the community of about 209,000 residents east of Los Angeles put off the declaration yesterday while agreeing to start formal contract negotiations with its public-employee unions. Confronted by a $45 million budget gap and depleted coffers, the council decided on bankruptcy July 10.

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