City Manager Willie Norfleet told the council Tuesday that the city's general fund and retirement fund would be able to absorb the cost of a new police agency at the same amount it spends on the current contract with the Sheriff's Department.
But the city has not been paying the Sheriff's Department the full amount owed under its existing contract, Rogers said. The city was currently behind by $6 million, having just paid about $4 million of its outstanding balance, he said.
In an internal memo to the council in March, Norfleet, then the city's controller, warned: "If the city is unable to pay the sheriff's contract on time next fiscal year, this will be a major indicator that the city will not be able to pay the salaries and other expenses of the Compton Police Department."
At the end of the 2010 fiscal year in July, the city's general fund was running a deficit of at least $8.7 million, according to city records. But Norfleet said the general fund's cash flow would be adequate to finance a local police department.
The City Council voted in July 2009 to reallocate $19.9 million in lease revenue bond funds from a planned senior center and transit center parking structure toward police department start-up costs. Critics decried the move as improper because that was not the purpose for which the bonds were issued.
The city's position, Norfleet said, is that it can use the money for police department capital expenses. An official with the L.A. County treasurer and tax collector's office confirmed Wednesday that that is permissible if the bonds are tax-exempt.
Compton contracted with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department to provide law enforcement services after the Compton Police Department disbanded in 2000, partially because of financial issues. Compton's contract is the fourth-largest that the Sheriff's Department has with a city.
The old Compton Police Department had a reputation for corruption. In 2004, residents voted overwhelmingly against bringing it back. The vote, however, was advisory, not binding.
"I remember the flagitious mercenaries who roamed the streets, who dealt drugs and participated in murders," said Bishop L.J. Guillory, ombudsman general for Ombudsman International, a nonprofit government oversight organization. "We don't want that lawlessness back here in Compton."
Guillory, a lifelong Compton resident, cited a greater level of accountability and cooperation between the Sheriff's Department and the community.
A group of residents led by former City Clerk Charles Davis is circulating a petition to place a measure on the ballot that would block the formation of a municipal police department.