BELL – The Los Angeles County Auditor-Controller said today that Bell residents would not get property tax refunds because of overpayments until Bell sends the county $2.9 million, which it is not required to do before Dec. 31.

Wendy Watanabe, the county’s auditor-controller, said she wanted to address news media reports “suggesting that Los Angeles County could start issuing refunds ‘within the week.’”

Watanabe’s office has already gotten calls from Bell property taxpayers asking for refunds.

All property taxes get handed up to the county.

“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.”

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.

The illegal tax rate is just one of several scandals uncovered following a Los Angeles Times report that the city manager, police chief and assistant city manager were being paid exorbitant salaries, well in excess of those paid for comparable positions in the City of Los Angeles or New York. The manager for the city of fewer than 40,000 residents was making $1.5 million a year in salary and benefits. The mayor and three of four city council members were making nearly $100,000 for part-time jobs.

Resignations followed, but the revelations about self-dealing at the expense of residents have continued, drawing national attention.