Survey notes CA approval rating

Homeowners association rates higher than in 2000

52% are pleased with services


August 12, 2002|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

A telephone survey shows that the Columbia Association may have rebounded from a period of tumultuous leadership, with slightly more than half of the town's residents responding that they're getting their money's worth from the liens they pay.

Mason-Dixon Polling & Research interviewed 807 adults and found that 52 percent of Columbia residents are satisfied with the quality of the homeowners association's services that are partially funded by assessment fees.

That number is 9 percentage points higher than in April 2000, bringing the satisfaction rate roughly back to the June 1997 level.

The 2000 survey was taken during a time when the town was in the midst of turmoil with then-Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty. In May 2000, McCarty resigned after 20 months on the job amid concerns about her leadership and commitment to the community.

Results from the recent survey commissioned by CA, conducted from April 29 through May 3, were released Thursday night to the Columbia Council, and will be used to provide a baseline to measure annual progress, set goals and address areas that need improvement.

CA President Maggie J. Brown said residents appreciate the community's lakes, tot lots and acres of open space that serve as visual reminders of what some of the assessment money pays for.

"I feel that when you're communicating more with people who are your lien-payers and they understand what it is that we do, I think they are able to grapple more with, `Here's what we are getting for our money,'" she said.

Council Chairman Miles Coffman said the increased satisfaction rate could stem partially from council members acting more civil recently, compared with years when the group was known for discontent and bickering. In 2000 and last year, the council searched for a new president, and some councilors accused others of racism because they backed a white finalist for the post instead of a black finalist.

"I don't think we're viewed as being so dysfunctional," he said. "Strategically, we're trying to do a better job."

Columbia's 95,000 residents pay an annual assessment based on property values, currently 73 cents per $100 of assessed value. The money is used for CA operations, including pools, recreational facilities, arts and cultural services, and pathways.

The groups most satisfied with the association's services are: CA members (69 percent), residents who are 60 and older (65 percent), residents who have lived in the area for more than 20 years (61 percent), and whites (57 percent).

By contrast, 51 percent of Columbia residents who are not CA members felt they weren't getting their money's worth.

On top of the assessment, CA also charges fees to use recreational facilities. Last year, a family membership cost $55 per month and gave a household access to all facilities. Half of those surveyed said that price was about right; 39 percent said it was too high.

The polling firm also asked residents why they moved to Columbia and to assess the community's founding values that were established 35 years ago.

Location was the most reason most noted for moving to Columbia (31 percent). Other factors were: housing (19 percent), appearance (18 percent), the community's vision and diversity (14 percent) and schools (13 percent).

The survey revealed that 28 percent of those questioned are "very familiar" with Columbia's vision, which includes founder James W. Rouse's goals of people of all races and economic backgrounds living together, respecting the land and preserving areas of nature throughout the town. Forty-two percent of Columbia residents responded that they were not familiar with the founding vision.

The council intends to focus on maintaining Columbia's vision as part of its strategic planning, a process started last year to address the town's future needs.

Coffman said the message of Columbia's history should start in the schools to let students know that the town is more than a convenient location between Baltimore and Washington.

"I think what separates Columbia from a White Marsh - you don't hear much about a White Marsh - is that Rouse tried to make this a place where all people could come," he said.

Brown said Columbia's vision was much more publicized three decades ago when the community was starting, and many of Rouse's goals have been realized. She said the vision is still present, but more people need to be educated about it.

"When you have that type of a vision ... people need to continually know about it, understand it and perpetuate it," she said, "because that's what community is all about."

Responses on whether Columbia's vision has been achieved were split - 55 percent of those surveyed said it has been met, while 41 percent felt it has not. Sixty percent of whites and 42 percent of African-Americans felt the vision has been achieved.

In measuring satisfaction of the elements within Columbia's vision, the survey found that 88 percent agreed that Columbia's design respects the land.

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