San Bernardino on Tuesday became the third California city in less than a month to seek bankruptcy protection, with officials saying the financial situation had become so dire that it could not cover payroll through the summer.
The unexpected vote came at the suggestion of the interim city manager, who said the city faces a $46-million deficit and depleted coffers.
"We have an immediate cash flow issue," Andrea Miller told the mayor and seven-member City Council.
Mayor Patrick Morris called the decision, passed on a 4-2 vote, a "stain" on the city. But he said the only other option was "draconian cuts" to all city services, including the police and fire departments.
"It means the bills will be paid," said a dejected Morris, who is not a voting member of the council.
The city's fiscal crisis has been years in the making, compounded by the nation's crushing recession and exacerbated by escalating pension costs, lucrative labor agreements, Sacramento's raid on redevelopment funds and a city reserve that is tapped out, officials said.
Miller told the council that the city faced major deficits for the next five years.
The deficits remain even after the city negotiated $10 million in concessions from employees and slashed the workforce 20% over the last four years.
The expected bankruptcy for the city of 209,000 residents is certain to heighten concerns about the fiscal forecast for other struggling California cities, which have been slashing jobs and services as tax revenues have declined during the prolonged economic slump.
San Bernardino "is still facing the possibility of insolvency due to a variety of issues including accounting errors, deficit spending, lack of revenue growth and increases in pension and debt costs," according to a budget analysis prepared for the council.
"The city has reached a breaking point and faces the reality of deficient cash on hand to meet its contractual and debt obligations," the report said.