Draft budgets call for cut of 10 cents in CA rate

Board to vote in February on 2005 spending plan

Association has a surplus

Many residents upset by rising assessments

December 21, 2003|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Association has released drafts of its 2005 and 2006 capital and operating budgets, which include reducing the annual property assessment rate a dime.

The budgets, which were given to the association board of directors Thursday night, call for the rate - which is based on property values and is now 73 cents per $100 of valuation assessed on 50 percent of the fair market value - to be dropped to 63 cents.

The board is scheduled to approve the 2005 budget in February, and if the new assessment rate is passed, it would mean that a homeowner with a house valued at $250,000 would pay the association $787, compared with $912 under the current charge.

The tentative reduction in the annual charge comes after east Columbia home property assessments increased an average 33.4 percent after the state reassessed values there last year, causing many homeowners to lobby the board to drop the rate or offer rebates.

Association President Maggie J. Brown told the board Thursday night that those rising assessments are one of the key factors contributing to CA having about $600,000 higher than budgeted income for 2004. That money is helping fund an estimated $5 million surplus.

While the board has tentatively agreed to reduce the assessment rate, it voted Dec. 11 against rebating property owners $2.6 million from surplus funds from the 2003 budget. The board agreed that it didn't have enough information to determine what amount would be available for a refund.

Board Chairman Miles Coff- man said at the Thursday meeting that the board may revisit the issue with more information next month.

The Alliance for a Better Columbia, a citizens watchdog group, sent a letter to the state delegation Wednesday, claiming that the Columbia Association has "not done justice to the residents in your districts" by not rebating to property owners $8.7 million, an amount ABC believes is appropriate.

The 2005 budget anticipates $52.2 million in income with a $4.5 million surplus. For 2006, the association expects $53.4 million in income with a $5.6 million surplus.

Highlights of the capital budgets include: $1.7 million for the 2006 budget to dredge Lake Elkhorn; $750,000 in 2006 to restore the banks of the Little Patuxent River to reduce the sediment flow into Lake Kittamaqundi; $675,000 in contingency funds in 2005 for planning for a new Columbia Association headquarters; and $5.3 million in contingency funds for headquarters construction costs in 2006.

The headquarters funds are contingent on the results of a study that will examine whether the association should continue to rent its current building - the 15-year lease with the Rouse Co. expires in August 2007 - lease elsewhere or build a 30,000-square-foot office building.

This is the first year the association is attempting a biennial budget, as a pilot program. Association staff has supported the process, maintaining that the association does not need to approve a budget each year because it is not planning any significant projects in the near future.

Next month, the board will hold public hearings on the budgets. It will also conditionally approve the 2006 budget at that time.

In January 2005, a review of the 2006 budget is scheduled, when the public, board members and staff could propose changes.

In another way to address the assessment issue, the board agreed Monday that the association will meet with Del. Shane E. Pendergrass regarding two bills that she plans to file in the coming General Assembly that would change how the association functions.

In response to residents' outcry about skyrocketing Columbia Association assessment bills, Pendergrass, a Howard County Democrat, has drafted a bill that would create a 10 percent ceiling on the change in property assessment.

The other bill would allow a majority of property owners to amend the association's covenants. Now, such a move would have to be approved unanimously by all property owners.

Pendergrass said she is pleased at the board's invitation and is working to set up a meeting the week of Jan. 5.

Her bill regarding the association's covenants calls for the regulations to be changed by at least 10 percent of the property owners petitioning for an amendment, which would then have to be approved by 51 percent of those casting ballots.

Pendergrass said the numbers in that bill are not final, and she would like to come up with requirements that the association would like.

However, she said the 10 percent ceiling on the change in assessment "is a more magic number."

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