Does this sound familiar? A group of politicians are elected to public office, they give themselves huge raises and then raise taxes on the citizens. Sounds like Washington DC, doesn’t it?
The case I’m referring to happened in the Bell, California. Have you ever heard of Bell, California? Located in Los Angeles County, Bell has a population of around 35,000. In 2005, an election was held in Bell to see if the residents wanted to make the town a charter city. Less than 400 voters turned out and the measure was passed. What Bell residents failed to realize was that being a charter city meant that their city officials were exempt from the state mandated salary caps.
Subsequently, the mayor and various members of the town council began voting themselves large raises. Robert Rizzo, city manager was making $787,637 a year ($1.5 million when added in benefits and compensation. Angela Spaccia, Rizzo’s assistant was making $376,288 a year. Randy Adams, police chief was making $457,000 per year. Although the city council positions were part time, each council member was paid $100,000 per year, compared to $4,800 per year for other cities of similar size.
However, Bell is not a wealthy town with one of every four people living below the poverty level. The only way to pay for their staggering salaries was to keep raising taxes on the city’s residents, but it wasn’t enough. Bell was rapidly facing a huge deficit of several million dollars, but city officials managed to keep it secret until a couple of reporters were investigating malfeasance in a nearby town. They heard about the outrageous salaries in Bell, and began digging into the story, which led to an audit by the state controller’s office. Audits revealed that the city had illegally increased fees for business licenses, property taxes and other sources of revenue.
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