Bell association applauds state oversight

A citizens group in the scandal-torn city of Bell today applauded the state controller's moves to end apparent tax overcharges, and renewed calls for more city administrators to resign.

Members of BASTA, a reform group backed by city police officers, said they welcomed news that state Controller John Chiang on Friday directed tax collectors to lower the city's tax rate. 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.

BASTA -- the Bell Association to Stop The Abuse -- today asked state legislators to change laws to allow the overcharges to be immediately refunded to taxpayers, instead of being transferred to local schools.

The interim city administrator, Pedro Carrillo, has said such refunds might be possible without state action, and said the city council will discuss such an action Monday night. "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 Friday.

In its statement today, BASTA demanded that four additional administrators in the small, gritty city southeast of Los Angeles resign. It targeted Director of Administrative Services Lourdes Garcia, Community Services Director Annette Peretz, General Services Director Eric Eggena and Business Development Coordinator Ricardo Gonzalez.

Several law enforcement investigations are underway into the City of Bell's finances. The city found itself in the national spotlight when the Los Angeles 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.

Rizzo, Adams and Spaccia have resigned in the uproar that rose when The Times printed those salaries. The paper also revealed that Bell's mayor and three of the city's four council members were being paid $97,000 for their part-time jobs.

The mayor and council members agreed to reduce their salaries, but refused to heed their outraged constituents' calls to step down.

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.