Sonoma County bankruptcy filings in 2011 fell for the first time in five years as fewer consumers sought protection from creditors.
However, a near-record number of residents and companies in Sonoma County are still struggling with debt despite the end of the recession nationally in 2009, according to new figures released this week by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Rosa.
Sonoma County consumers and businesses filed 2,380 bankruptcy cases last year, down from 2010 but still the second-highest number in records going back more than two decades.
Business bankruptcies rose 3 percent, to 118 cases, while consumer bankruptcies dropped 8 percent to 2,262 cases.
Bankruptcy Judge Alan Jaroslovsky and other observers welcomed the drop in total cases but were cautious in characterizing the import.
"I think maybe we see the first glimmerings of being over the hump, but we've still got a long ways to go," said Jaroslovsky, who has presided over the Santa Rosa-based court for 25 years.
The number of cases is still double the historic workload for the court, he said.
"You could say the filings are down, but as far as we're concerned, we're still trying to keep our heads above water," he said.
Residents and businesses in Lake and Mendocino counties filed fewer bankruptcy cases last year, too.
Bankruptcy filings dropped 5 percent in Lake County, to 301 cases, and fell 4 percent in Mendocino County, to 245 cases.