Another California city scrambling to avoid bankruptcy

Atwater, a city of roughly 28,000 in California's Central Valley, may declare a fiscal emergency as soon as next week, but it is trying to avoid becoming the fourth California city to file for municipal bankruptcy this year, its mayor said.

Under California law, a local government must either declare a "fiscal emergency" or go through a 60-to-90 day confidential negotiation process with its creditors before it files for municipal bankruptcy. Since late June, three Golden State cities-Stockton, San Bernardino and Mammoth Lakes-have filed for bankruptcy protection.

"We are planning to stay current on our ... bonds," said Mayor Carol Joan Faul in a telephone interview with Dow Jones Newswires. "We are hoping to avoid" bankruptcy, she said, "but as far as I'm concerned, we may have to declare a fiscal emergency" on Oct. 3.

According to its fiscal 2011 financial statement, Atwater had roughly $95 million in outstanding debt, a mixture of bonds related to its sewer as well its now-defunct redevelopment agency. Ms. Faul said Atwater intends to make an upcoming bond payment of $2 million on its sewer bonds.

Atwater's intention to pay its bonds contrasts with moves made by Stockton and San Bernardino. Stockton has stopped making debt payments on debt tied to its general fund, and it is seeking to impose significant haircuts on holders of its pension debt. San Bernardino is also deferring payments on debt related to its general fund as part of a fiscal operating plan it approved in July.

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