Bell residents overcharged on property taxes

BELL — An investigation by the state Controller's Office has revealed that residents of the scandal-torn city of Bell have been overcharged on their property tax bills for years.

State Controller John Chiang said residents have overpaid about $3 million in property taxes over the past three years, with the city charging a higher tax rate for pension costs than allowed by state law.

Chiang sent a letter to Los Angeles County officials instructing them to reduce the Bell property tax rate, noting that the city has been improperly raising the rate since 2007 to cover the pension obligations.

According to Chiang, state law caps the property tax rate for pension obligations at the rate used in fiscal year 1983-84. But residents of Bell saw their property tax obligation increase from 0.187554 percent in 2007 to 0.277554 percent this year, he said.

"While my investigation into the city of Bell continues, these unlawful taxes must stop immediately,'' Chiang said. "Homeowners and property owners should not pay the price for this poor fiscal management.''

Chiang said lowering the tax rate would save residents about $250 a year on a property worth $275,000.

In response to Chiang's allegation, Bell interim administrative officer Pedro Carrillo said he directed the city attorney to ensure that residents be provided refunds if they were overcharged on their tax bills.

"The interim city administration is taking swift and decisive action to right this wrong and ensure that Bell homeowners see an immediate reduction in property taxes,'' Carrillo said.

He said the Bell City Council would discuss the issue Monday night.

The Los Angeles Times reported last month that Bell had the second-highest property tax rate in Los Angeles County, with a rate of 1.55 percent -- above the county average of 1.16 percent.

Chiang is conducting one of several investigations into the city of Bell's finances. The city found itself in the national spotlight when the Times reported that some top city officials were making exorbitant salaries. City Manager Robert Rizzo was being paid an annual salary of $787,637; Police Chief Randy Adams, $457,000; and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, $376,000.

Additionally, the mayor and three of the city's four council members were being paid $97,000 for their part-time jobs.

Rizzo, Adams and Spaccia have since resigned. The mayor and council members agreed to reduce their salaries, but refused to heed their outraged constituents' calls to step down.

Bell officials later revealed that at least seven other city officials had six-digit salary and benefit packages.

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