It seems that another California city is in financial trouble. This time it’s Chowchilla, a town that sits along the 99 Freeway that I remember passing by dozens and dozens of times when we used to live in the southern part of the state and visit in the north. It seems that, among many other problems, they went a little overboard a few years back in borrowing money to build a new city hall as detailed in this story at the Fresno Bee.
Things now are so bad that officials in Chowchilla, population 19,000, are discussing the possibility of disincorporating and turning over all services to Madera County. No California city has disincorporated in at least several decades.
The state controller’s office, meanwhile, says it’s monitoring the situation and has made several calls to city staff to see how it can help.
Chowchilla’s finance chief, Wayne Padilla, said the city is running out of ideas for how to make cuts, though one possibility remains: Move everyone out of the $8 million City Hall — a spacious and aesthetically pleasing building that opened in 2007 to much fanfare — and into cramped quarters in the police department to save on energy costs. The City Hall building would go dark.
Even if the city did that, the 16,000-square-foot building still would be a drain on the budget. Chowchilla must make annual payments of $367,000 on the City Hall bond each year until 2035 – an expense that consumes almost 10% of the city’s general fund budget.
This year, the city used all of its bond reserve fund to make its payment — a practice known in the financial world as a technical default.
It’s been years since we were through that area, but, as I recall, they had a nice outlet mall that always seemed to be a little out of place, that is, located in the middle of California’s Central Vally where all you usually see are cows and the occasional prison.