The city of Atwater is finally heading in the right direction with its finances.
After nearly going over its own fiscal cliff, the city has managed to take one giant step back this week from the threat of bankruptcy.
The budget approved by the council Monday cut general fund expenditure to about $11 million, a couple of million less than initially proposed. Although the budget was late getting to the council for approval, it was worth the wait if it meant saving more money and improving the city's financial outlook.
A general fund shortfall of more than $4 million, as well as deficits in the city's water and sanitation funds, resulted in the fiscal emergency. That eventually triggered eight layoffs, steep pay reductions and broad service cuts.
Fortunately, the council had the backbone to make those tough decisions and effectively deal with the city's budget crisis finally. Much of the credit for that goes to Frank Pietro, the police chief and interim city manager.
A lifelong Atwater resident, Pietro stepped into the city manager's role at the urging of the council at the height of the financial mess and with bankruptcy looming. Things were grim.
Working closely with a financial consultant, Pietro managed to right the ship at least for now. And he did it without asking for more pay while taking on more responsibility as city manager amid an awful predicament. He's been more than good soldier.
His thanks? Someone tagged his motor home.
While also serving as police chief, Pietro hasn't let divided loyalties allow him to unfairly protect his department from the budget ax. His officers agreed to a whopping 22 percent pay cut to help bail out the city that has been trimming their ranks since 2007.
He is, however, lobbying hard on behalf of a law enforcement tax initiative headed to Atwater voters March 5.
No matter how that vote turns out, Pietro and the council still have plenty of tough fiscal work to do.
The city's debt-laden water and sanitation funds have to be made whole. A reluctance to raise fees until recently has allowed those problem areas to fester and endanger the entire city's welfare.
No one likes higher fees. After all, money's tight, foreclosures persist and unemployment remains high. But residents need to pay a fair price for the services they use, and the council has to have the courage to force that issue.
The council's unwillingness to do so in the past continues to threaten the city's future. All the council members have to demonstrate the leadership to make tough choices, no matter how unpopular.
It's also troubling that only three of the five council members showed up for Monday's meeting to consider the budget which passed unanimously, 3-0. At times like these, all council members need to be present and explain their decisions.
Failure to do so going forward in the face of more challenging decisions could derail the progress that's been made in Atwater and push the city back to the brink.