Ex-council member challenges CA to court battle Charles Ahalt disputes taxes

August 08, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

The Columbia Association might have to go to court to collect the balance due on an annual property charge owed by a former Columbia Council member, who says he's looking for a court fight.

"What I expect them to do is put a lien on my property for the balance," said Charles W. Ahalt, who served one year on the council before losing his re-election bid in April. "If they do that, we're going to court."

Association officials say Mr. Ahalt's protest of the way the unincorporated city collects property taxes is irrelevant because the issue was settled in court last spring.

Because the 30-day period for paying property liens has expired, the association will charge 6 percent annual interest on the balance owed and eventually could take Mr. Ahalt to court to collect, said Bob Krawczak, CA vice president for administrative services.

"I'm going to stick to my guns," said Mr. Ahalt, a frequent critic of the group's money management, accounting and assessment methods.

The council, which sets policy and the budget for the association, also is the private, nonprofit corporation's board of directors.

Columbia property owners pay an annual fee of 73 cents per $100 of assessed value. The assessed value is 50 percent of the property's market value, which is determined by the state. The ++ fee is used to operate the city's recreational facilities and social programs and to maintain open-space areas.

In contrast, state and county governments base property tax charges on 40 percent of a property's appraised market value. The difference in methods can be seen in Mr. Ahalt's assessment, or the figure on which property charges are based: $81,530 for his county bill and $106,080 for the CA annual charge, which represent 40 percent and 50 percent, respectively, of his property's market value. Under CA's assessment and its rate of 73 cents per $100 of assessed value, Mr. Ahalt's bill is $774. If CA used the county's assessment, his bill would be $595.

Mr. Ahalt, a Hickory Ridge village resident, says he and other Columbia property owners have been overcharged. His argument parallels the court case in which the association successfully defended its right to use a method for computing property charges different from the state and county governments'.

Mr. Ahalt said he is obligated to pay only $595 out of his property assessment bill of $774. He contends that the association violated a council resolution establishing the assessment rate and calculated its property assessments incorrectly.

"I believe in the [CA] covenants," he said. "I fulfill my part of the contract, and I expect CA to fulfill their part."

Charles Acquard, a former councilman, said he has heard similar arguments from Mr. Ahalt before.

"He's a broken record of challenging the legality of what CA does," said Mr. Acquard, an attorney. "I think Charlie misreads what the covenants say and surely the intent.

Although Mr. Ahalt is acting independently, the citizens watchdog group, Alliance for a Better Columbia (ABC), supports his effort, said President Alex Hekimian, adding that Mr. Ahalt has "special status" as a former council member.

"He was elected by the people to represent them because of what he stood for," Mr. Hekimian said.

Albert Genemans, who brought the failed court case against the association in April, and Mr. Ahalt are affiliated with ABC, which advocates reducing the annual property charge.

Mr. Krawczak said the council enacts essentially the same property lien resolution every year.

"I believe CA in practice is assessing appropriately and in accordance with the provisions of its covenants and all applicable law," said Jeanette Pfotenhauer, the association's general counsel.

But Mr. Ahalt contends that the resolution does not allow the association to charge property owners based on a higher percentage of market value than the state and county use to compute tax bills.

On April 13, Howard Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane upheld the association's authority to base its annual charges on 50 percent of a property's appraised market value instead of the 40 percent rate used by the state and county to determine property taxes. The association enjoys the exemption because it is a private organization that provides some public services.

ABC intends to press its case to require the association to adopt the same assessment methods that state and county government use, Mr. Hekimian said.

1% "This issue isn't dead," he said.

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