Bell property taxes overcharged for years

BELL, Calif. The solution is to reduce the tax rate back to the legal rate. That will go before the Bell City Council at a Monday meeting. The details of the meeting were posted in front of City Hall Friday night.

Bell homeowners have been paying some of the highest property taxes in the state: $3 million more in the past three years.

How this happened is a question that, right now, can't be answered by city officials.

"We are trying to find out the who, the what, and the where and the why," said Bell Interim City Manager Pedro Carrillo. "We don't have that yet. We just know that the fact is that it was, and it happened."

City officials were ordered to roll back the tax rate after the state controller discovered the city illegally raised its property taxes in 2007.

The current rate is roughly 50 percent higher than it was three years ago.

"Monday night we are presenting to the council a resolution which will reduce the tax rate to the legally allowable limit under state law," said Bell Interim City Attorney Jaime Casso. "And we'll move on from there."

Residents may not see any money. A state law requires over-assessments to go to local schools, but nothing is set in stone just yet.

"We don't know what exactly what we are going to do with that overage but we are going to work with the controller and the city attorney to make certain the people -- we're not going to exclude rebates," said Carrillo.

What the residents in Bell really want is transparency in their city government, and answers -- something city officials say will be coming soon.

"At some point, though, I feel, in the near future, the residents are going to find out what we've learned, what we're uncovering, and they're going to demand action, and we're going to take action," said Casso.

Bell residents are also upset that Monday's meeting will be held in council chambers, a room that does not accommodate many people. Some residents feel like they're being pushed out of these meetings.

Pedro Carrillo says it needs to be brought before city council before they can change the venue or change the room.

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