The city of Bell, CA is nearly broke after city officials used public funds to inflate their salaries, and is now facing painful cuts to the city’s budget, including possibly disbanding its police department and slashing other city services.
Some of the officials in this blue-collar Los Angeles-area city made up to $96,000 a year for part-time elected positions — 20 times the national average for a city Bell’s size. Former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo, who was charged with 53 different counts, made nearly $800,000 a year. Eight Bell officials pleaded not guilty to the charges in October.
Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives of the Los Angeles Times report that a review of the city’s financial records to be released next month shows:
that Bell has been running a deficit totaling several million dollars over at least the last three years under former Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo. The red ink is the result of hefty salaries and pensions for top Bell officials and extensive city-run programs, the review found. To cover part of the deficit, city officials took money raised by the sale of bonds for specific projects and diverted it to the general fund, a likely violation of the law, according to experts on municipal finance.
That’s according to “officials familiar with its contents who spoke on condition of anonymity because the document remains under wraps.”
The city reportedly reached out to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department before the scandal surfaced, in anticipation of possibly closing the Police Department and enlisting the Sheriff’s Department instead. The Times writes that Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department, “said that the Sheriff’s Department would be cheaper than a hometown police force because much of the infrastructure already is in place.”
In response, members of the the Bell Police Officers Association spoke out over the weekend against the potential plan, including Gilbert Jara, the group’s president: “There have already been cutbacks of police officers and public safety resources,” he said. “We need more police officers on the streets to fight gangs, drug traffickers, domestic abusers and other criminals — not less.”