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BELL, CA - JULY 26: The City of Bell mayor Oscar Hernandez reacts to calls by residents of the city asking for his resignation during a council meeting on July 26, 2010 in Bell, California. The council members have voted to cut their salaries in response to public outcry at city officials' high salaries. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Oscar Hernandez
Bell residents hoping for a quick property tax refund will have to wait awhile. Los Angeles County says they will not get any refund until the city of Bell sends $2.9 million.
Wendy Watanabe, the Los Angeles County's Auditor-Controller, said she wanted to address news media reports "suggesting that Los Angeles County could start issuing refunds 'within the week.'"
"The city of Bell must first provide funds to us before we can initiate any refunds," said Watanabe. "No refunds will be processed until then."
Watanabe's office has already gotten calls from Bell property taxpayers asking for refunds.
All property taxes get handed up to the county.
The State Controller's office determined in August that about 4,000 Bell residents had been illegally overcharged on their property tax bills for the last three years. City officials raised the tax rate in 2007 to cover pension obligations, but those charges were in excess of legal limits.
Bell had been paying the second highest property tax rates in the county, higher than in Beverly Hills, although it's one of the poorest communities in the county, where 17 percent of the residents live in poverty.
State Controller John Chiang estimated that taxpayers would save about about $250 per year on a $275,000 home once tax rates were reduced.
Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado signed Senate Bill 900 yesterday, which made the refunds possible. Taxpayers should expect to receive interest on the amounts, according to Maldonado.