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Bell residents ‘outraged’ by property tax overcharging

August 13, 2010 |  1:15 pm

Bell's interim City Manager Pedro Carrillo said the city plans to take "appropriate action" at a council meeting on Monday that could result in lower property taxes.

Carrillo's statement comes in response to findings by state Controller John Chiang that Bell had overcharged residents up to $2.9 million in property taxes since 2007 to help cover pension costs.

"This is why we've been working with the state controller and our city attorney," Carrillo said. "And that is to fix whatever is broken -- and it seems we are finding a lot of that."

Ever since The Times first reported high executive salaries – former City Manager Robert Rizzo was earning $1.5 million in salary and benefits – the city has been slammed with bad news, including that its residents were paying the second-highest property taxes in Los Angeles County. Rizzo, assistant city manager Angela Spaccia and Police Chief Randy Adams have all resigned. Four City Council members, who are now facing recall, have also agreed to take a 90% pay cut after The Times reported they were earning about $100,000 annually for their part-time work. The district attorney and state attorney general have launched investigations into the high pay as well as allegations of voter fraud and improper property transactions.

"As a resident and property owner I am very outraged," said Ali Saleh, co-founder of Bell Assn. to Stop the Abuse, the group behind the recall. "This proves all the complaining we have done about the high taxes is true."

Resident Huitzil Arenas, 43, agreed: "I'm very angry.... They stole money from the people."

In his to letter to county Auditor-Controller Wendy Watanabe, Chiang said the money should be refunded to local schools. City officials have not yet said whether it will repay the money -- or if it has the means to.

If the money does go back to schools, Arenas, who has lived in Bell for 16 years, said, "That's one positive thing from all this."

-- Ruben Vives