As a handful of residents pleaded for relief from higher annual assessment charges at a hearing on the Columbia Association's budget, the organization's president said she would provide five options to address the contentious issue by the end of the month.
"People are fed up; they really are. Talk to your neighbors," Joel Pearlman of Kings Contrivance told board members Thursday evening. "They want to keep within a budget. Everybody has a budget now. ... Stocks have gone down. People haven't gotten raises in three years."
After steep jumps in their property values, east Columbia homeowners have been grousing over higher annual payments to the homeowners association.
The annual payment, which is tied to property values, is based on an assessment rate that can be raised or lowered by the CA board. The current rate is 73 cents per $100 of valuation on 50 percent of the fair market property value.
The higher property values have helped add $2.7 million in CA revenue for fiscal 2004 and contributed to an expected surplus of more than $4 million for the year.
With help from legal counsel, the association has been researching ways to ease the cost to homeowners.
"The bondholders, the organization and the residents have to get into a win-win situation," said board Chairman Miles Coffman.
CA President Maggie J. Brown told board members she is preparing a summary of five options that address the assessment issue and its impact on the association's finances:
A phase-in of the assessment.
A phase-in of the assessment and a 5 percent ceiling on the increase.
Reducing the association's assessment rate from 73 cents to 71 cents and making CA debt-free by 2015.
The impact of budget increases of 25 percent vs. the actual increase at 27.5 percent.
What could be accomplished if the assessment rate is not reduced.
"We hope to have [the options] by the end of September," Brown told board members. The next board meeting is Sept. 25.
Alex Hekimian, president of the citizens watchdog group Alliance for a Better Columbia, told the board early in the evening that there's an "overwhelming sentiment" in the community that CA should reduce the rate of the annual charge this year by an amount equal to a 5 percent ceiling.
"There is good precedent for a 5 percent cap," Hekimian said.
"It is comparable to the one used by Howard County for its property tax," he said. "This is a well-reasoned and humane solution to alleviating the financial burden on the people who are facing big increases in assessments."
The next public hearings on the budgets will be held in January. The board is expected to approve the 2005 budget, then conditionally approve the 2006 budget, in February.