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Bend Bulletin Owner Files For 2nd Bankruptcy In A Decade

<p>The Bend Bulletin is located in&nbsp;a building that&nbsp;has&nbsp;more than $700,000 in unpaid property taxes.</p>

Emily Cureton

The Bend Bulletin is located in a building that has more than $700,000 in unpaid property taxes.

 The Bend Bulletin’s parent company in in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, again.

Western Communications owns seven newspapers across the Pacific Northwest, many in rural communities where no one else is delivering local news. It emerged from another bankruptcy in 2012.

Court records show the corporation has $7 million in unsecured debts. It’s behind on federal taxes, with about $1 million owed to the Internal Revenue Service. Recent reporting by OPB revealed nearly $1 million in back property taxes, too. Employees have experienced years of layoffs, late paychecks and furloughs. Since the first time Western Communications entered bankruptcy proceedings eight years ago, it has shed 135 jobs, as per court filings, and still has about $18.9 million in secured debt from that settlement.

On Tuesday, the Bend Bulletin told its newspaper readers to expect “changes in the coming weeks and months,” that will make the paper more economically stable.Western Communications president John Costa did not respond to emails for further comment.

“I can only assure people that we’re working as hard as we can and in good faith to make sure that that the Bulletin goes forward,” Costa told OPB 11 days before the filing.

The company owns four other newspapers in Oregon: the Curry Coastal Pilot, the Redmond Spokesman, the La Grande Observer, and the Baker City Herald; plus two in California: the Del Norte Triplicate, and the Sonora Union Democrat.

Western Communications’ declared its top 20 unsecured debts range from $946,000 owed to a newspaper cooperative that sells printing and distribution supplies, to $5,500 for a syndication service. Also on the list: $59,000 for a Bend fireworks show.

On Jan. 14, the company paid its bankruptcy attorneys a $100,000 retainer. On Jan. 25, the court granted the newspaper chain’s request to access $1.6 million in cash collateral to keep the newspapers running without harming the company’s value.

In a Jan. 22 statement, Western Communications Chairwoman Betsy McCool wrote of the bankruptcy filing: “This is the only way we can preserve our creditors’ investments and our owners’ interests in valuable community assets.”

Under Chapter 11, the company will argue its finances can be reorganized to be profitable again, despite the present situation.

This story was updated on Jan. 25, 2019  to reflect court filings.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Emily Cureton Cook is a JPR content partner from Oregon Public Broadcasting. Emily is the former producer of the Jefferson Exchange on JPR and has contributed award-winning programming to Georgia Public Broadcasting. Emily is a graduate of the University of Texas in Austin where she earned degrees in history, studio art and Russian.