Home values up an average of 47.4% on west side

Jump is 14 points higher than in the east

board ponders assessment rate


January 08, 2004|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Home values in west Columbia have skyrocketed an average of 47.4 percent past over three years, hitting homeowners harder than in east Columbia, where many residents are still riled about their recent increase in home values.

The upsurge - which is 14 percentage points higher than east Columbia's increase - will be another factor for the Columbia Association board of directors to consider as it sets the assessment rate, which is based on property values, for the 2005 and 2006 budgets.

"It's significant," board Chairman Miles Coffman said of the increase. Coffman just received notice that his Hickory Ridge home assessment increased more than 50 percent.

To address the rising property values, the board has included a 10-cent reduction in the assessment rate in the proposed 2005 and 2006 budgets. The decrease would result in a rate of 63 cents for each $100 of valuation assessed on 50 percent of the fair market value.

Coffman said that rate could be changed again before the board approves the 2005 budget next month, when it will also conditionally approve the 2006 budget. He said board members have several factors to consider when setting the rate, including pending legislation by Del. Shane E. Pendergrass that would affect the annual charge.

"If we can lower the rate more, then we will," Coffman said.

The board is scheduled to hold a public forum on the budgets at 7:30 tonight at Slayton House in Wilde Lake Village Center.

The state mailed updated property reassessments to west Columbia property owners the last week of last year. Kent T. Finkelsen, assistant supervisor for assessments in Howard County, said the driving force behind the rising values in Columbia and the county is a combination of location and shortage of land.

"The market has just gone up tremendously in the last four years," he said. "The problem we have in Howard County is everyone wants to live here, and we're running out of land."

With a 47.4 percent increase under the current 73-cent charge, a home previously valued at $200,000 would command an annual increase from $730 to $1,076. Under a 63-cent rate, the newly valued home would be $928.

The future of the Columbia Association's assessment rate also depends on legislation that Pendergrass, a Howard County Democrat, plans to propose. A bill she has drafted would impose a 10 percent ceiling on the change in property assessments for the association's annual charge.

The association does not phase in the assessed property value over a period of years and instead imposes the maximum amount.

"I think that the 47 percent increase may help to focus the villages on the west side of Columbia to the fact that there is a problem that needs a solution, which I hope will lead them to realize that my 10 percent phase-in bill is a very good and fair solution," Pendergrass said.

East Columbia homeowners received updated property assessments in December 2002, and the average 33.4 percent increase of homes there brought in an extra $2.7 million in assessment revenue to the homeowners association.

With a 63-cent annual charge, the Columbia Association anticipates assessment revenue in 2005 to increase 3.4 percent more than this year, to $26.8 million.

Coffman said many residents have lobbied him to have the association use the increase in assessment revenue to help pay down the association's long-term debt, which is about $78 million. Coffman said he anticipates the association might be able to both reduce the rate and put money toward debt reduction.

The Alliance for a Better Columbia, a citizen watchdog group, wants the board to drop the rate to 50 cents. Joel Pearlman, a spokesman for the group, said that rate would create a balanced budget for the association and would not raise homeowners' assessment bills.

"We don't think [the Columbia Association] deserves any more money than last year," he said.

Coffman said that the rising property values can be largely attributed to the association's effect on Columbia by helping to improve residents' quality of life.

"Without [the association], we wouldn't be any different than White Marsh or New Town Owings Mills," he said. " ... You get a sense of community, and I think the Columbia Association is a big part of that. And I think that spreads throughout the county."

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