Report: Calif. city on brink of insolvency

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The scandal-ravaged city of Bell is teetering on the brink of insolvency and drastic cuts in city services likely will be necessary to repair its finances, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

The report by the Los Angeles County auditor-controller paints the most dire financial picture yet of the blue-collar suburb of some 40,000 people, according to the Times.

The findings were discussed with the newspaper by officials familiar with its contents who spoke on condition of anonymity because the document remains under seal. The report is expected to be released next month.

The audit found that the city has been running a deficit totaling several million dollars over at least the last three years under former Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo. Rizzo and seven other former and current city officials have been charged with misappropriating $5.5 million in public funds. All have pleaded not guilty.

During the three years covered in the audit, salaries of top city officials grew rapidly, accounting for an increasingly large portion of the city's budget. Until they were forced to resign in July, Rizzo was expected to earn more than $1.5 million, Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia $846,000 and Police Chief Randy Adams $770,000.

All but one member of the council was earning close to $100,000 annually for their part-time jobs.

Bell's financial outlook is so serious that the city will have to make deep cuts in services, including possibly closing the Police Department and contracting with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the county review concluded.

Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the sheriff's department, said Bell officials had informally contacted the agency about replacing the Police Department before the scandal broke.

Gilbert Jara, president of the Bell Police Officers Association, said the city could disband the department fairly quickly because officers' contract with the city expired in June. Closing the department would require approval from the Bell City Council.

One of Bell's largest activist groups, Bell Association to Stop the Abuse or BASTA, is funded in part by the Bell Police Officers Association.

"It's devastating. You just handed me a gut bomb," Bell Police Capt. Anthony Miranda told the Times when informed of the auditor's findings. "I hope that through this turmoil, we can maintain the Police Department and find a way to keep that ship afloat."