Now Atwater teetering toward bankruptcy

by CalWatchdog Staff | September 27, 2012 8:11 am

[1]Sept. 27, 2012

By Chriss Street

Atwater, Calif. just admitted[2] it does not have the cash flow to make a $2 million municipal bond payment due in November. It may become the fourth local California government to file for Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy this year.

The 28,000-resident farming community has been strangled by environmentalists less interested in family farms than in protecting the lifestyle of a three-inch fish called the Delta Smelt.  With the city burdened with crippling unionized public employee wage and pension costs, while private sector wages and property values drop, Atwater is the latest in a soon-to-be tidal wave of local government failures.

Beginning in 2007, Federal Judge Oliver Wanger imposed limits on the amount of water pumped from the San Joachin-Sacramento River delta to farms in California’s Central Valley in order to protect a two-inch endangered fish called the Delta Smelt[3].  As a result, hundreds of thousand of acres of farmland lie fallow, and tens of thousands of jobs were lost. (Wanger later[4] partly reversed himself.)

More than 200,000 farmers, migrant workers and their family members[5] were financially devastated.  Homeless shelters and bread lines were overwhelmed as crops withered and banks foreclosed on family farms.  Local public schools continue to report rising malnutrition, as many proud families are too embarrassed to take government welfare.

The U.S. House of Representatives Congress passed San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act, H.R. 1837,  to try to restore the water flow. But California’s two U.S. Senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein[6], fought off the legislation in July by convincing President Obama’s[7] senior advisors to recommend a presidential veto.

A disgusted Speaker of the House John Boehner said on the House floor that using the Endangered Species Act to protect a fish at the expense of food production and economic growth is “a perfect example of the overreach of government[8]”.

The median home price in Atwater has plunged from $336,000 in June 2007 to just $140,000 today and unemployment has surged to 21 percent.  The 2010 Atwater median household income was $42,226. That was 19 percent below the national average of $51,914.  Almost a fourth of the population is now considered below the poverty line, compared with 13.7 percent statewide, according to U.S. Census figures.

Falling revenue

Even with all this pain and suffering, Atwater’s city tax revenue fell by only 20 percent since its peak in 2007.  Atwater did reduce its bloated union payroll from 120 to 80 since 2008, but mostly through attrition and laying off low paid younger workers.

To keep the lights on, the city depleted its cash reserves, while union wages continued to rise and the city agreed to pay all general employees’ portions of mandatory pension contribution and all but 2 percent of the mandatory contribution for highly paid police and firefighters.  The city also continued to pick up most of the cost of health-care premiums that rose by 15 percent this year and are scheduled to rise 10 percent next year.

With the threat of bankruptcy, wages now may be slashed.  According to Atwater Mayor Joan Faul, “We just started negotiating with our unions and they are going to have to take a major cut. We hope that once we declare a fiscal emergency that they will realize that we are definitely in an emergency.  If they want to save all the jobs, everyone is going to have to take a cut.”

Standard & Poor’s seems to have been shocked to learn that city is broke and hacked Atwater’s Public Financing Authority’s wastewater revenue bonds solvency rating on September 24, from a strong credit-worthy A rating to a BBB- junk-bond rating.

Under a state law passed by California’s ultra-liberal legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year, cities seeking bankruptcy protection are forced to first declare a fiscal emergency or hold talks for 90 days with creditors through a mediator or wait for 60 days if they run out of money.  With Atwater and many other local government cities and agencies about to bounce payroll checks, California bankruptcy courts are going to need to go on a hiring binge to handle the coming long lines of municipal failures.

Chriss Street co-hosts “The American Exceptionalism Radio Talk Show”

Streaming Live Monday through Thursday from 7-10 PM

Click Here to Listen:[9]

Dinesh D’Sousa will be the guest at 7 pm on Oct. 4. He is the director and star of “2016: Obama’s America.”

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  1. [Image]:
  2. admitted:
  3. protect a two-inch endangered fish called the Delta Smelt:
  4. later:
  5. 200,000 farmers, migrant workers and their family members:
  6. California’s two U.S. Senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein:
  7. President Obama’s:
  8. a perfect example of the overreach of government:

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