Board may cut CA fees in 2005

Association's debt would still be reduced

Residents would pay 63 cents

Capital projects OK'd for 2005, 2006 budgets

Columbia

October 20, 2003|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Association board of directors proposed yesterday reducing the assessment rate in the 2005 budget by almost 14 percent to bring relief to homeowners who were hit with high assessments caused by skyrocketing property values.

In a straw vote during the board's weekend work session on the 2005 and 2006 budgets, members agreed that reducing the rate - currently at 73 cents - to 63 cents would be fair to property owners and still keep the homeowners association on track to reduce its long-term debt, which is $78 million.

"My guiding principal is to not have debt increases. We're still borrowing every year," board Chairman Miles Coffman said.

If the board approves the 63 cent rate when it passes the 2005 budget in February, a homeowner with a house valued at $250,000 would pay the association $787, compared with $912 under the current charge.

The annual charge, which is based on property values, was last reduced by the board in 1992 to its current rate - 73 cents per $100 of valuation assessed on 50 percent of the fair market value.

Residents have been urging CA to offer some type of financial assistance in recent months and have been criticizing the board and staff for not responding sooner to higher annual charges.

Property values in east Columbia increased an average of 33.4 percent during the past three years, bringing in an extra $2.7 million of income to the homeowners association for 2004. The total 2004 surplus is expected to be $5.3 million.

Saturday, CA President Maggie J. Brown presented to the board another tool that could be used to offset the high annual charges - a ruling from the Internal Revenue Service that the staff had requested in June, before the public uproar began, stating that the association could offer property owners rebates or credits against their assessment charges in years when there is a surplus higher than budgeted. The IRS concluded that such rebates would not jeopardize the association's nonprofit status.

That means that if the board deemed it appropriate, it could rebate $2.6 million of the surplus in the 2003 budget.

The board spent the weekend approving with straw votes capital projects that cost more than $100,000 for the 2005 and 2006 fiscal budgets. During the board's pilot two-year budget process, it is scheduled to pass the 2005 budget and conditionally approve the 2006 budget in February.

Public hearings and many board meetings on the budgets are set for January and February. The process also allows for the board, staff and public to propose changes for the 2006 budget in February and March of 2005.

The board is aiming for a $7.5 million capital budget in 2005 and an $8 million capital budget in 2006.

In a move that addresses Owen Brown homeowners' concerns, the board approved with straw votes yesterday $1.7 million for the 2006 budget to dredge Lake Elkhorn.

"Woo-hoo! Thank you, everybody," board member Pearl Atkinson-Stewart of Owen Brown told the board. She had been lobbying for the lake - which is being overrun with algae and sediment - to be dredged before Lake Kittamaqundi.

Lake Kittamaqundi had been scheduled to be dredged first because it is filling up with sediment, much of it caused by silt from the nearby Little Patuxent River. Spots in the upper-third area of the lake are less than 1 foot deep.

"Right now we've got a lake that's taking far more sediment than it's designed for," said Chick Rhodehamel, the association's vice president for open-space management.

While the board approved the $750,000 to restore the banks of the Little Patuxent River to reduce the sediment flow, some members balked at the $2.4 million price tag to dredge Lake Kittamaqundi that the staff proposed yesterday for the 2006 budget. The board renewed its plea from last year - when it turned down the project for the 2004 budget - urging the staff to seek outside funding from county, state or federal sources.

Board members said because the river is contributing to the heavy sediment, the dredging project should not be only CA's responsibility.

Board member Joshua Feldmark of Wilde Lake suggested that the board "call [the county's] bluff" by forcing the river's water to flow onto county property to make the county address the problem. Board member David Hlass of Long Reach suggested suing the Rouse Co., either for poor construction of the lake or because the development started by the company contributes to sediment.

Brown told the board that the staff has unsuccessfully tried to secure funding from outside sources and urged members to move forward on dredging both lakes.

"I truly believe that we have taken the route we should have," she said. "I think for us to sit here and believe that we're going to get the dollars [from other sources], we're really not being wise."

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