Supervisors urge legislation to return tax funds to Bell property owners


Reacting to the Bell city salary scandal, Los Angeles County supervisors said Tuesday that they were seeking state legislation to return $2.9 million in property tax overcharges to Bell property owners.

Bell city officials illegally raised its property taxes in 2007, imposing a “retirement tax” to cover rising pension costs for its employees, state controller John Chiang found last week. But Chiang said Bell residents wouldn’t be getting a tax refund because state law says such tax overpayments must instead go to schools in Bell.

The supervisors’ motion, which seeks to fix that problem, orders county officials to lobby lawmakers in Sacramento to permit a refund to those who paid property taxes in Bell.

The revelation of the illegal retirement tax last week appeared to confirm longstanding complaints from Bell property owners that they were being overtaxed. The Times reported last month that Bell officials collected huge paychecks, that the city had cut police and other services and that its property owners were paying higher tax rates than those in all but one other city in Los Angeles County.

Meanwhile, after nearly nine hours of public testimony, the Bell City Council voted early Tuesday to roll back property taxes, cede control of the next municipal election to Los Angeles County and lower copying fees for public records.

The reforms coincide with the opening of local and state investigations into City Hall finances, the high salaries of top administrators and possible election fraud.

Several hundred people descended on City Hall Monday night to attend the meeting, which continued into the early morning.

For the first time, the city also hired a court reporter to record the meetings.

Angry residents spent hours lashing out at city leaders, demanding that they step down — with the exception of Councilman Lorenzo Velez, an early proponent of reform who was not drawing a high salary, as his colleagues were.

Despite disapproval by most in attendance, city leaders also voted to designate James Casso of the law firm Meyers Nave as interim city attorney and Pedro Carrillo of Urban Associates as acting city manager. Velez cast the sole dissenting vote on both appointments.