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Bell residents paid huge tax bills in addition to huge salaries, records show

July 29, 2010 | 12:31 pm

David Ramirez, 40, protests in the city of Bell as residents marched to the homes of the mayor and 3 members of the city council on July 25. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times
Bell did more than just give top city administrators some of the largest salaries in the nation: Residents in the working-class town also pay the highest property taxes of all but one of Los Angeles County’s 88 cities, according to interviews and records.

All county property owners pay 1% general property tax, along with special or direct assessments levied by their municipalities. The countywide average of all tax rates is 1.16, or $11.60 for every $1,000 of assessed value.

Bell’s rate is 1.55% -- nearly half again as much as those in such affluent enclaves as Beverly Hills and Palos Verdes Estates and Manhattan Beach, and significantly higher than just about everywhere else in Los Angeles County, according to records provided by the county Auditor-Controller’s Office at The Times request.

That means that the owner of a home in Bell with an assessed value of $400,000 would pay about $6,200 in annual property taxes.The owner of the same home in Malibu, whose rate is 1.10%, would pay just $4,400.

The only place with a higher rate for residents is the City of Industry -- but that city has only 21 residential parcels that are affected.

The records seems to confirm complaints by some Bell residents who expressed outrage that they seemed to be paying exceedingly high taxes at the same time as the City Council was paying the city manager nearly $800,000 and council members were paying themselves nearly $100,000.

“I didn’t realize we were so unique here in this little community,” said Dorothy Danna, 68, a widow who has lived in Bell for 40 years and is losing her home to foreclosure. “I thought everyone paid as much as we did. . . . That does not make me very happy.”

Bell, a largely immigrant town of about 39,000, owes its lofty rate to a combination of factors, records show, including bond debt and a “retirement tax” approved by local voters in 1944 that put property owners on the hook for some of the cost of municipal employees’ pensions. Since 2006, county records show, those local taxes have doubled. So have direct assessments for trash collection, sewer maintenance and other services, which also have driven residents’ tax bills higher.

The Times reported earlier this week that the city had cut spending on police and community services, even as it continued to raise salaries for City Manager Robert Rizzo, Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia and Police Chief Randy Adams to some of the highest in the nation.

 Adams' salary was $457,000 and Spaccia's was  $376,000 before all three resigned amid the public uproar created after The Times reported the amounts earlier this month.

-- Kim Christensen

Photo: David Ramirez, 40, protests in the city of Bell as residents marched to the homes of the mayor and three members of the City Council on Sunday. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

Investigating Bell: A Times special report:

Is a city manager worth $800,000?

In depth: High salaries in Bell

Interactive: How the salaries got so high

Bell residents are not happy about high salaries

High salaries fuel anger in Bell

Bell council members under investigation for $100,000 salaries

Video: Why do Bell officials make so much money? The Times' Jeff Gottlieb explains.

Bell city manager might be highest paid in nation

Bell council found loophole to allow big salaries

DA expands investigation of Bell

Bell salary scandal has other cities running for cover

Photos: Protests in Bell