Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

March 14, 2004

Columbian supports Pendergrass effort

I am writing in support of two bills introduced by [Democratic] Del. Shane Pendergrass (HB 566 and HB 567) that would place a cap on increases in the annual assessment charges paid by residents of Columbia and afford residents a greater say in the governance of their community.

These bills have stirred up a considerable amount of controversy in the community, with proponents arguing that state intervention is needed to prevent the Columbia Association (CA) from exploiting its exception to state-imposed limits on the maximum annual increases in assessed values for property tax purposes, and opponents arguing that the state is meddling in local affairs.

Although local autonomy has the populist appeal of promoting "grass roots" democracy, in the case of Columbia, the biggest threat to majority rule, ironically enough, comes from the Columbia Association.

CA has acted as a law unto itself for much of its history, operating behind a veil of secrecy and withholding information that rightfully belongs in the public domain. Board/Council members have frequently experienced difficulty in obtaining information from CA staff that is essential to effectively manage the organization. Council members have also received contradictory information from CA staff on whether state intervention is needed to phase in increased assessments as well as misleading information regarding bond covenant requirements.

The general community is forced to observe this charade that passes for governance in our community with little control over the outcome. Board members elected on the promise that they will tame the bureaucratic beast either become discouraged and leave after one or two years or decide to content themselves with exercising minimal oversight, hoping a majority of like-minded souls will eventually be elected.

Unfortunately, the chances of their hopes being realized are much diminished by the growing apathy and cynicism of the community (as evidenced by a 10 percent voting rate in recent elections). The inability of the Council to focus on issues of substance without resorting to childish personal attacks on dissenters as well as its inability to enforce financial discipline on an organization whose penchant for spending money on self-promoting projects (e.g., a new headquarters building) and "perks" (unjustified foreign travel) for senior staff cause many residents to tune out.

Sadly, the only hope for meaningful reform lies in state intervention. Periodic attempts by CA to provide residents the illusion that their voice counts, such as a citizens governance committee whose major recommendations have been largely ignored over the past 2 years, only exacerbate the community's sense of impotence. Defeat of Shane's proposed legislation would only add to CA's sense of invulnerability and lead to even bolder attempts to indulge its unquenchable greed.

Joel Yesley

Columbia

Columbia residents need legislative help

My family moved to Columbia in 1969. There were few grandparents or retirees. We were predominantly a young and middle-aged community attracted to the promise of this new town. Our two daughters are products of the school system. After college, they came back to live and are productive members of our community. I am grateful that I do not have to take an airplane to see my granddaughters. They live only a 15-minute ride from my home.

As Columbia has aged, so have its residents. Quality of life issues are even more challenging. I speak for the widowed homeowner whose finances have been impacted by the loss of her husband. I speak for the retired couple who are homeowners and members of my church who expressed their appreciation for the position I have taken on this issue. I speak for the young, married, professional couple who have three children and a monthly mortgage. They are questioning the wisdom and affordability of their decision to buy a home in Columbia. I speak for the divorced parent who is struggling to make mortgage payments because her children don't want to move from Columbia. I speak for the social club of which I have been a member for over 30 years. We began as a "couples" club. Now that half of us are widowed, we no longer function as a "couples" club. We share many concerns, one of them being that we will be priced out of Columbia.

Everyone in my circle of friends and neighbors knows someone who is out of work, knows of some community business that has down-sized or gone "belly up," and knows some homeowners on fixed income who are making extreme sacrifices to maintain their homes and be good neighbors. The exemption that allows CA to deviate from the State's way of setting the value of assessments is no longer justifiable. The time for relief is now. Despite promises made by any of its members, the structure of CA does not allow them to guarantee corrective action.

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