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Atwater declares fiscal emergency amid layoffs

October 3, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
There were angry words Wednesday night as a North Valley city declared a fiscal emergency and looked to lay off much of its staff.

Now the city of Atwater is one step closer to more layoffs and pay cuts throughout the city.

Critics say Atwater is heading toward bankruptcy but officials claim that's not true.

The city says it will soon lose 14 employees and possibly more. With the financial emergency now official in Atwater residents could see a cut in services - including police.

During the meeting there were angry words and a struggling city council on the defense.

14 employees already have layoff notices.

Jennifer Trindade has worked as an administrative assistant for the city manager's office and the city council for 5 years.

"My last day is October 29th," she said.

She's a single mom now worried, much like city leaders, about paying the bills.

"Right now I'm going home and stressing - and her wanting to know why mommy doesn't have a job is hard," Trindade said.

The city says it's in the red by $3.3 million, leaving it no other option than to cut staff, many of whom took a stand at the special meeting.

"These people are going to have to worry about mortgages, car payments, utilities - and oh yeah, by the way Christmas and Thanksgiving and other holidays coming up," Jim Price of Atwater said.

"What you have done is reprehensible. What you have done to these people is absolutely unacceptable," union representative Nancy Vinson said.

Interim City Manager and Police Chief Frank Pietro says another 24 employees, mostly public works staff, have also been given layoff notices. He hopes to keep those workers.

He says this common law fiscal emergency now allows him to cut pay and staffing for represented employees like police officers, a group he says is willing to make concessions to keep colleagues employed.

"So without even having a talk with us, because their contract is closed until 2014, they've already offered 22 percent of their salary to help with this deficit," Pietro said.

An official plan of attack on the $3.3 million deficit will be released in the next few weeks.

The plan is expected to include rate hikes like the city's water fee that has not been raised in more than 20 years.

Officials say the city hopes not to file for bankruptcy, but the option is on the table.

The city will talk publicly about its money problems at another meeting on October 22.

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