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Blythe, Calexico among state’s high-risk cities

Rebecca Plevin Palm Springs Desert Sun USA TODAY NETWORK

The inland cities of Blythe and Calexico are among the top-five most fiscally challenged cities in the state, according to a new analysis by the California State Auditor.

The auditor’s office on Thursday unveiled a new online dashboard that ranks more than 470 California cities based on their fiscal health. It uses publicly available information — including if a city can pay its bills, the city’s level of debt, whether the city has reserves and if the city can pay retirement benefits — to assess individual city’s levels of risk.

The tool, called the Local Government High-Risk Dashboard, assigns cities an overall score of high, moderate or low risk, and also rates their risk level based on specific indicators.

“This new transparent interface for the public, state and local policy makers, and other interested parties is intended to identify cities that could be

See BLYTHE, Page 12A

Blythe is among the top-five most fiscally challenged cities in the state, according to a new analysis by the state auditor. THE DESERT SUN FILE

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facing significant fiscal challenges,” State Auditor Elaine Howle said in a statement.

The auditor’s office will continue adding information to the database to highlight cities’ economic trends and prevent them from slipping into fiscal distress, Howle said.

Blythe, a Riverside County farming city of about 20,000 people located near the California-Arizona border, has in recent years seen a shrinking population and high poverty rate. The city banked on legal marijuana businesses bringing it back to prosperity, but its cannabis industry hasn’t yet taken off.

The city now faces high risks based on its ability to pay its bills in the coming fiscal year, its debt burden, its general fund reserves, its revenue trends and its pension obligations and costs, among other indicators, according to the auditor.

Calexico, an Imperial County city of about 40,000 people situated on the California-Mexico border, is at the highest risk of any city in the state when it comes to its ability to pay its bills in the coming fiscal year. It is also at high risk due to its debt burden, general fund reserves and future pension costs, according to the auditor’s office.

Palm Springs, with a population of about 47,000, faces high risks due to its debt burden, pension funding and future pension costs, according to the auditor’s office.

The city of Hemet, which Business Insider recently named one of the 50 most miserable cities in the country, clocked in just ahead of Palm Springs at 41st of 471 cities, earning an overall moderate risk score, according to the auditor’s office. The Inland Empire community known for high crime rates, unemployment and vacant homes earned high-risk designations due to its pension obligations, pension funding and pension costs.

The office previously audited Hemet and concluded in August 2016 that the city was at high risk, due to issues related to its finances and organizational management.

The office is currently monitoring the city’s progress.

Rebecca Plevin is a reporter for The Desert Sun. Reach her at rebecca.ple vin@desertsun.com. Follow her on Twitter at @rebeccaplevin.

Statewide rankings

The top California cities facing fiscal challenges include: 1. Compton 2. Atwater 3. Blythe 4. Lindsay 5. Calexico 6. San Fernando 7. El Cerrito 8. San Gabriel 9. Maywood 10. Monrovia

How the Coachella Valley stacks up

No Coachella Valley cities received an overall high risk designation from the auditor’s office. When compared with 471 California cities, here’s how the nine valley cities scored based on their overall financial risk: 1. Palm Springs (#46, at moderate risk) 2. Cathedral City (#105, at moderate risk) 3. Indio (#118, at moderate risk) 4. Coachella (#121, at moderate risk) 5. Desert Hot Springs (#308, at low risk) 6. La Quinta (#434, at low risk) 7. Palm Desert (#444, at low risk) 8. Rancho Mirage (#454, at low risk) 9. Indian Wells (#466, at low risk)

A border fence runs along a street in Calexico. On the other side is the larger city of Mexicali.

ZOE MEYERS/DESERT SUN

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