CA's board backs ceiling

Delegate told it supports 10% limit on assessment

Retroactive part of bill opposed

Delay sought on lowering vote for covenant change

January 11, 2004|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Columbia Association board members told Del. Shane E. Pendergrass yesterday they support her efforts to impose a 10 percent ceiling on rising property assessments, preventing homeowners from paying sharply increased annual charges to the homeowners association.

But board members said they were opposed to making the proposed legislation retroactive to address last year's east Columbia annual charges - many of which increased after property assessments jumped an average of 33.4 percent - because they worried about the financial implications.

"Technically, that money has already been spent," said Joshua Feldmark, the board vice chairman. "We felt it would be best for us and everyone if we didn't have to start digging back into the budget."

FOR THE RECORD - An article published Sunday in the Howard County edition of The Sun about legislation that would affect the Columbia Association incorrectly reported that the CA board opposed a bill that would allow a majority of voting property owners to change the association's covenants. The board wants Del. Shane E. Pendergrass, who drafted the bill, to delay submitting it for a year.
And a photo caption accompanying the story incorrectly stated board vice chairman Joshua Feldmark's position on Pendergrass' legislation that would impose a 10 percent ceiling on rising property assessments. Feldmark supports the measure being retroactive and thinks the money should be credited to property owners. The Sun regrets the errors.

The board also asked Pendergrass to delay submitting until next year another bill that would allow a majority of voting property owners to change the association's covenants. The requirement now calls for unanimous approval from property owners.

Pendergrass, a Howard County Democrat, said she would respond to the board about each of its requests by the end of this week.

The CA rules call for the association to collect the annual charge based on the maximum assessed property amount each year instead of phasing in the change in assessment over three years, as Howard County does.

The state just sent out assessment notices to west Columbia, where assessments on homes increased an average of 47.4 percent.

The board is addressing the rising property assessments in the association's 2005 and 2006 proposed budgets by dropping the assessment rate a dime, to 63 cents per $100 of valuation assessed on 50 percent of the fair market value.

The board is scheduled to approve the 2005 budget next month.

The increase in east Columbia property assessments brought in an extra $2.7 million in revenue to the homeowners association. Board member Cabell Greenwood of River Hill said the responsibility for rebating that money should come from the board, and the state shouldn't "dictate to us how to deal with it."

Pendergrass said the retroactive provision in her bill was not intended to "take anyone's power away." She said she worried that without that part of the legislation, the association would not be able to give money back to east Columbia property owners.

According to a ruling by the Internal Revenue Service, the association can rebate a surplus higher than budgeted without jeopardizing the association's nonprofit status. However, the rebate must go to all property owners, not just to those in one section of Columbia.

At the board's request, Pendergrass said she would look into changing the wording of the bill so it would allow - but not force - the association to give a retroactive rebate. Pendergrass said she would also consider clarifying whether the money would be rebated or credited to homeowners.

Feldmark also told Pendergrass that the board was opposed to her second proposed bill, which would allow a majority of voting property owners to change the association's covenants. He said members are concerned about its ramifications.

Feldmark said the bill's requirements - allowing the covenants 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 - are too low.

He told Pendergrass that the board wants a year to explore options and for community discussion to determine what would be an appropriate avenue to change the association's covenants.

"We don't have any sense of what would be reasonable or what the ramifications would be," Feldmark said.

Pendergrass said she will "seriously consider what you're asking. It's not unreasonable at all."

Yesterday's meeting was scheduled after both board Chairman Miles Coffman and association President Maggie J. Brown claimed the delegate never consulted the association before drafting her legislation.

Pendergrass has said she had extended herself to the association many times before drafting the bills, and yesterday she said she was pleased with the outcome of the meeting. She told the board members she appreciated that they were working for Columbia residents' interests.

"We need to figure out a way to go forward and make things work," she said.

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