By Scott Smith, The Record, Stockton, Calif.

Councilman Dale Fritchen, often criticized for his stance as being dead-set against taking Stockton into bankruptcy, said Wednesday that he is close to presenting his alternative.

Fritchen said his plan will balance the city's deficit budget without laying off any police officers.

"Stockton can avoid bankruptcy," Fritchen told a gathering of about 40 residents in a town hall meeting at the Merlo Gymnasium. "If anybody tells you we can't, they don't have all the facts."

Stockton has gained the nation's attention for its financial distress. Dragged down by the Great Recession and excessive debt, Stockton is entering its fourth year of multimillion-dollar deficits. In three years, city leaders have balanced the budget by cutting police and fire services as well as pay and benefits to city employees.

City Manager Bob Deis last week presented a proposed budget that estimates a $26 million shortfall, and city leaders have said they cannot stand another year of deep cuts to employees and city services to residents.

The city is in mediation, trying to renegotiate agreements with its creditors, labor groups and retirees with the goal of avoiding bankruptcy. That mediation is expected to conclude by the end of June.

By July 1, the city is required to adopt a balanced budget. Stockton would be the largest city in the nation to file bankruptcy should it fail to balance its budget.

Fritchen has distinguished himself for his stance against bankruptcy. Nobody on the City Council likes the option of bankruptcy, but Fritchen has been the lone voice opposed to any action taking the city in that direction, including mediation.

In his presentation, Fritchen said the consequences of bankruptcy would loom for a decade. It would stigmatize Stockton and possibly prevent the city from being able in the near future to borrow money, Fritchen said.

Deis was conspicuously absent from Fritchen's town hall meeting. He had accompanied council members at each of the four earlier such meetings organized by City Hall. Deis and Fritchen are at odds on this topic.

Councilman Paul Canepa will hold the next town hall meeting. It will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Arnold Rue Community Center, 5758 Lorraine Ave.

(c)2012 The Record (Stockton, Calif.)