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These 3 Northern California cities have shaky finances. Can they recover?

A stage hand wanders across the stage of what is now the Toyota Amphitheatre near Marysville, on Thursday May 6, 2004.
A stage hand wanders across the stage of what is now the Toyota Amphitheatre near Marysville, on Thursday May 6, 2004. Sacramento Bee file

Three Northern California cities that have struggled with wildfires and flooding share a different kind of challenge, ranking among California cities with the highest risk of financial distress.

New data from the California State Auditor’s Office shows Marysville, Yuba City and Paradise are the most at-risk of financial distress among Northern California cities.

The California State Auditor’s Office on Thursday unveiled a new online dashboard revealing the fiscal health, or lack thereof, of 471 cities in the Golden State.

That dashboard highlights 18 cities statewide as being “high risk” for experiencing financial distress. Marysville came in at No. 16.

Using data from the 2016-17 fiscal year, the dashboard measures a city’s fiscal health using 10 metrics, with a city scoring points based on how they have addressed that topic.

The metrics include a city’s liquidity, debt burden, general fund reserves, revenue trends, pension obligations, pension funding, pension costs, future pension costs, post-employment benefit obligations and post-employment benefit funding.

The state auditor’s office found that Marysville is at high risk in the categories of debt burden, pension obligations, pension funding, future pension costs and post-employment benefit funding.

Now, Marysville soon could be getting visitors from the state, California State Auditor Elaine Howle said in a press conference Thursday morning.

“The next step for us, is to reach out to these cities,” Howle said.

Howle said employees of her office will contact representatives from cities like Marysville, which are at high risk of financial distress, and ask if they have a plan to deal with their finances. If the answer is no, Howle said the next step is for her office to get legislative permission to go in and do an audit.

While not as at-risk as its neighbor, Yuba City also ranks highly on the auditor’s list, coming in at No. 26.

Though listed as a moderate risk overall, Yuba City is at high risk in the categories of liquidity, debt burden, general fund reserves, future pension costs and post-employment benefits funding.

Paradise, the third most at-risk for financial distress in the region, came in at No. 33 on the state auditor’s list. The city is at moderate overall risk. It is at high risk in the categories of general fund reserves, pension obligations, future pension costs and post-employment benefits funding, according to the auditor’s office.

The auditor did not consider how the deadly Camp Fire affected Paradise’s local government finances. The fire, which destroyed much of Paradise and killed 85 people, occurred after the time period covered in the report.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for the Sacramento Bee. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
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