CA should reduce high assessment rate
With all due respect to Maggie Brown, the President of the Columbia Association, she still doesn't seem to get it. Ms. Brown makes a lengthy attempt in a letter to The Sun ("Perks of Columbia come at a price") to justify the drastic increases in CA's annual charge, but it all falls flat.
It's incredible that her letter shows no compassion for homeowners on the east side of Columbia who were hit by an average increase of 33 percent in their bill for the annual charge. Likewise, it shows no compassion for homeowners on the west side of Columbia who would soon see their bills skyrocket by an average of 48 percent. And she, with encouragement from Chairman A. Miles Coffman of Hickory Ridge and a few others on CA's Board of Directors, coldly advocates squeezing more money out of Columbia's residents at a time when people are suffering from pay freezes, lay-offs, and distressing economic conditions.
To add insult to injury, CA staff is exploiting the windfall by giving themselves huge salaries and bonuses, trips to Europe, free Package Plan memberships, and expensive retreats. And now, they want to spend even more on costly, self-serving projects, high-priced attorneys and lobbyists to fight residents' proposals, and a fancy new CA headquarters for themselves.
CA staff was initially in a state of total denial, claiming that residents didn't care about the dramatic increases in their payments. Later on, after complaints from residents, staff suggested a 2-cent reduction in the rate of the annual charge, even though there was ample evidence that a reduction of at least 20 cents is warranted to produce a balanced operating budget. More recently, the Board took a straw vote in favor of a symbolic reduction of 10 cents, which is still only half of what is warranted.
CA's overcharges have caused enormous operating surpluses in recent years. Each year, these unwarranted surpluses trigger a feeding frenzy by CA staff as they try to spend the money as fast as they can. Ms. Brown states that the Board is considering a rebate, but she doesn't reveal that they are only for a portion of the FY 2003 surplus. The point is that CA, as a non-profit organization, should return the entire surplus for this year and next year and in the future approve balanced budgets having neither operating deficits nor operating surpluses.
All that homeowners want is to be treated fairly. The Board should refund the entire surpluses from FY 2003 and FY 2004 to property owners, and in the future, CA should set the rate of the annual charge to reflect a balanced budget. This will mean a lower level of capital expenditures and operating expenses than CA staff wants, but it's about time that CA took a more humane and disciplined approach to spending other people's money!
The writer is president of Alliance for a Better Columbia.
Make CA budget fair for all residents
As one member of the Columbia Association Board, I read Maggie Brown's letter to the editor ("Perks of Columbia come at a price," Nov. 30) and felt I had to straighten out several misunderstandings one might get from it.
The big one of, course, is that she was speaking for all of CA. Not so. At no time did Maggie ask permission of the Board to speak for the Board, and several of us specifically told her we had problems with it. So please take the letter for what it is, Maggie Brown's and a few Board members' views, period.
Next, Maggie made it look like there is some risk of breaking our bond agreements if we reduce the CA tax rate. The CA finance department handed that same misinformation to the state Attorney General in early August. At the Board's Aug. 28 meeting, one of my constituents, Joel Pearlman, presented the Board a detailed written refutation of the scary bondholder memo sent to the Attorney General. That night the CA's chief of finance, Ms. Siddiqui, promised a written answer. We are now three months later, there has been no such writing, despite my prodding, and I think we can safely conclude there is no risk to the bondholders from reducing the tax rate.
The next bugaboo is debt. You and I incur debt to buy things we have not the cash for, like houses and cars. That is not why community and municipal corporations like CA and Howard County borrow. They have a different reason. They borrow to spread payment.
If, as has been the recent case (FY 2004), CA authorized $7.8 million of new capital spending, it would be grossly unfair to charge all those millions to the taxpayers right away. Why so? Because the things CA is buying have a useful life anywhere from five to 40 years. That is why they are called "capital." Taxpayers should pay as they use, and the only way to do that is borrow the money and pay it off.