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Bell, Calif.: The tale of an overtaxed city

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Resident Dan Harber yells at Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez at the first City Council meeting since Hernandez and three council members were arrested on corruption charges. (Jason Redmond/AP)

No, I am not writing this post because I just found out there's an entire town named after my family in California. (Okay, probably not my family, but stay with me here.)

I am writing this post because the city officials in Bell are under investigation for running the town for the past 10 years as their own personal cash register.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

Bell's former city administrator, Robert Rizzo, and seven other current and former officials were charged by Los Angeles County prosecutors earlier this fall with multiple counts of corruption, mostly related to efforts to conceal their outsized salaries. All have pleaded not guilty. Rizzo was set to earn roughly $1.5 million in compensation this year.

While the rest of the state languishes in economic turmoil, the council in Bell arbitrarily charged small-business owners tens of thousands of dollars each year for permits and guaranteed sales tax revenue.

If a business failed to come up with the money, it would be threatened with closure or made to pay the difference.

Again from the Times:

In one instance, a tire shop owner paid at least $144,000 over a four-year period, according to city records. Another tire shop owner was required to pay $13,000 a year.

California auditors have also determined the city unlawfully taxed residents, many of whom earn low incomes.

Unsurprisingly, the City Council faced an angry crowd of residents at its first meeting since the arrests. One of the few orders of business the council was able to attend to was agreeing to a recall election in March, when voters can decide if the council members under investigation should be removed from office.

Wow, Bell. Way to do the family name proud.

By Melissa Bell  | November 2, 2010; 11:50 AM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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