Tax rebate bill for Bell homeowners awaits governor's signature

Residents of the City of Bell who are calling for the ouster of city officials line up to enter the community center for a council meeting on July 26, 2010 in Bell, California.
Residents of the City of Bell who are calling for the ouster of city officials line up to enter the community center for a council meeting on July 26, 2010 in Bell, California. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The City of Bell today announced that homeowners there are in for a property tax rebate. The rebate results from a state audit — and from a bill the state legislature just passed to return the money to homeowners.

In the wake the City of Bell's financial scandal, officials there asked California's controller John Chiang to audit the city's finances. It didn’t take him long to find more abuse.

"My office uncovered an illegal tax on the property owners of the City of Bell." Chiang said.

Chiang's auditors found that Bell city officials had violated state limits on property tax hikes. They overcharged homeowners an estimated $2.9 million in property tax to pay for pensions.

Chiang's said, "The homeowners of California, especially the homeowners of Bell, do not need to pay an unnecessary tax burden based on an illegal tax."

Bell homeowners’ tax bills jumped 50 percent over three years. Chiang estimates that a person who owned a property worth $200,000 paid $250 more in taxes than they owed last year.

Assemblyman Kevin DeLeon (D-LA) introduced a bill, AB900, to return those ill-gotten gains to homeowners in Bell. Such an overcharge would ordinarily go to the county school district.

California's state legislature passed the "Tax Rebate Bill" this week and sent the measure to Gov. Schwarzenegger to sign.

The state controller continues to audit finances in the City of Bell.

The City of Bell has repealed the 2007 ordinance that hiked homeowner tax rates.

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