This city is dangerously close to falling apart.

Its cash flow has slowed to a trickle and, without help, it will not be able to meet some municipal payrolls this fall.

Its bond ratings are so low that it cannot borrow in the national money markets.

Its bookkeeping accounts are so bad that critics compare them to pre-Medic banking. One auditing firm, trying to make sense of the fiscal mess, reportedly has found $52 million missing from the city treasury.

Its schools, facing a massive busing program this fall, are also nearly bankrupt and will not be able to open on time unless the state bails them out.

The city council is not on speaking terms with the mayor, and once cut off hs microphone when he tried to make a point, he boycotted the next two meetings.

And the mayor, 31-year-old Dennis Kucinich (his foes call him Dennis the Menace), is facing a recall election Sunday after being in office only nine months.

If he is ousted, it would be the first time in at least 25 years that a city of more than 100,000 population has thrown out its top official.

The aura of instability here is reelected in a greeting that old timers give visitors: "Welcome to the banana republic of Cleveland!"

A year ago when he was campaigning against "corruption and inefficiency" in city government, Kucinich told voters, "We cannot afford to let Cleveland become a national joke."

Now some establishment leaders fear that has already happened to this old mill town on Lake Erie.

Now some establishment leaders fear that has already happened to this old mill town on Lake Erie.

A few days ago the Wall Street journal referred to its "mistake on the lake" image.

Zoltan Gombos, publisher of four Hungarian newspapers here, reports that a local joke, picked up by national wire services, has even found the way into the press of his native Hungary. They joke goes like this:

"What is the difference between Cleveland and the TItanic?"

"I give up."

"Cleveland has a better orchestra."

The collective inferiority complex is acknowledged by Dale R. Finley, executive vice president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. "People have been hearing so much negativism these days that they're starting to believe it," he says.

To combat the image problem the bureau and the rGreater Cleveland Growth Association have begun a three-year, $4.3 million campaign to promote the metropolitan area as a fine place to live and as an emerging center of "advanced services" such as law, accounting and engineering.

According to Associated Professor Richard V. Knight, an urban economist at Cleveland State University, these services have grown up around the headquarters of more than 30 major corporations. (Cleveland ranks behind New York and Chicago as the third larges corporate headquarters center in the country.)

Besides its fine symphony orchestra Cleveland has an excellent art museum, lively theaters, good ballet, lovely parks and a skilled labor force.

But city government, traditionally a jousting arena for mayors and councils, has practically ground down to nothing. This week Kucinich called a council meeting to deal with a wildcat strike of city garage mechanics, and the council refused to act.

Kucinich accused his arch-foe, Council President George L. Forbes, of "trying to create chaos" in an effort to hurt the mayor's chances in the recall. The mayor went to court and made concessions to the mechanics and thus halted what could have turned into a general strike.

Kucinich's recall was demanded by 39,500 petitioners after he fired a popular police chief, Richard D. Hongisto, and engaged in a series of battles with the council and business community.

The mayor's detractors say he and his young aides are abrasive, arrogant and vindictive. They charge that he has driven away badly needed business investment by refusing to grant tax write-offs to firms building in the city and by vetoing a deal to expand the port so that large freighters could unload iron ore.

Kucinich argues that the write-offs or tax abatements, and the port deal would have been "ripoffs" and that through other concessions he has induced a major bakery and a medical insurance firm to build new facilities downtown.

But the question of business confidence in the city remains. Herbert E. Strawbridge, president of the city's largest department store, says, "The city is damn near broke." He predicts that "possibly next month and by November at the latest, there will be no police, no firefighters, no waste collection, and the city will be shut down."

Kucinich, in an interview this week, scoffed at the dire forecasts. "This city isn't broke," he said. "It's not going to be. It hasn't failed to meet payrolls and it won't." The fiscal problems, he added, "are nor unmanageable. I inherited a very difficult situation but it's not impossible."

His finance director, Joseph G. Tegreene, said the city's operating fund deficit would be $4 million to $5 million, not the $25 million that some municipal finance experts have predicted.

Some critics say Cleveland, which lost a quarter of its population between 1970 and 1977, is losing people at a faster rate this year. They say the migration stems mainly from the crisis of the school system, which is separate from the city administration and not Kucinich's responsibility.

However, other sources, including the mayor, say the migration has almost halted. No census figures are available for this year, records of the U-Haul Co. show no difference in the number of moves out of the city this year from last year's figures.

For the 600,000 city residents remaining, life seems to go on much the same, despite the turmoil at city hall. Bands still give daily concerts in Chester Commons and Hanna Fountains Mall downtown; people still shop at the huge farmer-style New Central and West Side Markets, and Erie on the cruise boat Goodtime II.

Of about two dozen citizens interviewed, most saw no overall changes in city services. Some complained of fewer police patrols and later garbage pickups but others said services for the elderly, such as free lunches and bus transportation, are better this year.

Kucinich insists city services are better under his administration. But city councilman Robert E. Getz, head of the council's service committee, said reports from the mayor's aides indicate a 30 percent decline in the city's pickup of large items like old sofas and washing machines and a 45 percent decline in the miles of streets swept. Maintenance is so bad that one day this week 58 percent of the garbage packer-trucks and 42 percent of the flatbed trash trucks were out of service, Getz said.

Some city officials say the local system of government has built-in instability because the mayor and council members serve two-year terms, which means they have little time to make and carry out policy before they have to start campaigning again. Other weaknesses are that the council is so big it is unwieldy, and its 33 members are responsible only to their ownwards.

Council President Forbes says that after the recall vote he plans to submit a charter amendment calling for a 21-member council and four-year terms for the mayor and the council. Larry Robinson of the local Citizens League said such proposals have been defeated twice in the last decade by city voters, but he added that "from a political science point of view, they make good sense."

A Cleveland Plain Dealer Newspaper poll this week showed Kucinich defeating the recall attempt, with 42 percen of those polled against the recall, 32 percent for it and 26 percent undecided. The poll, however, was taken before the revelations about the extent of the city's fiscal troubles.

Kuchinich gives no indication that if he wins he will moderate his attitude toward the council or business. In the interview he called big business here "the most stunning collection of abysmal failures in the United States. They flopped at promoting Cleveland and they're blaming me for its troubles."

Forbes also sees no letup in the confrontation politics. "Dennis had done a lot of damage to the council and the business community," he said. "I don't care if he wins. The strain is so great it can't be repaired."

And a leading businessman, James M. Carney said, "The city will survive, I suppose, but once you get a bad name, it's hard to overcome. It seems we're hell-bent on disaster."