October 1, 2012

Atwater layoffs of up to 25 predicted

Big changes are expected this week for the city, as it teeters on the edge of becoming the fourth California municipality to file for bankruptcy this year.

City officials expect a special meeting Wednesday to bring 20 to 25 layoffs out of about 90 employees. During the same meeting, the City Council will consider declaring a fiscal emergency -- a step toward bankruptcy.

The item was continued from a meeting last month.

Atwater Planning Commissioner Fred Warchol said he suspects there could be as many as 25 layoffs announced during Wednesday's meeting.

A general fund deficit totaling more than $3 million, joined by deficits in the water and sanitation funds, led the city into the fiscal crisis that's forced the difficult decisions and cutbacks.

Wednesday's open-session meeting will start at 7 p.m. in the City Council chamber at 750 Bellevue Road in Atwater.

In the midst of the turmoil, Jose Sanchez of Meyers Nave law firm had announced he would be stepping down as city attorney so his firm could focus on getting the city through the fiscal crisis.

At a closed-session meeting last week, the council selected a new city attorney, Tom Terpstra of Ripon.

Mayor Joan Faul said Terpstra will serve as general counsel to the city.

"He's worked for the city of Ripon for 20 years, and they think he's outstanding," Faul said. "We just felt he was a very knowledgeable individual."

Faul noted that Terpstra will continue to work for Ripon as he takes on his role in Atwater.

Sanchez said he is working with Terpstra and Atwater's interim city manager on the details of the transition. Sanchez's firm originally intended to serve as special counsel for the city, and that still is being discussed with city management.

Terpstra, who's lived in the Central Valley since he was 8 years old, said that in the short-term, his focus will be on assessing and analyzing the situation in Atwater.

"It looks like we have a very good leadership group there," he noted.

In addition to his work in Ripon, Terpstra has served as special counsel in several cities, counties and special districts.

Terpstra said Ripon has faced its share of financial challenges, but those difficulties don't rise to the level of Atwater's.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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