House panel OKs bill to cap levy

CA board seeks voluntary property assessment limit

covenant proposal fails


March 16, 2004|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

A House of Delegates committee unanimously approved yesterday a bill that aims to offer financial relief to Columbia residents by imposing a 10 percent cap on rising property assessments in the planned community.

But the Environmental Matters Committee killed another bill that would allow two-thirds of voting property owners to amend the Columbia Association's covenants. Now, the association's covenants can be amended only by unanimous approval of property owners.

"I am pleased that the cap bill came out without amendment," said Del. Shane E. Pendergrass, who drafted both bills. "That has been my priority, and that continues to be my priority."

FOR THE RECORD - A subhead in yesterday's Howard County section of The Sun incorrectly stated the Columbia Association board's stance on proposed state legislation that would impose a 10 percent cap on rising property assessments in Columbia. Some board members want the cap to be voluntary, and others want it to be mandatory. The Sun regrets the error.

Chairwoman Maggie L. McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat, said her committee felt an assessment limit was a "legitimate function" that Columbia needed.

HB 566 would limit the impact of skyrocketing state property tax assessments on the Columbia Association's annual charge imposed on property owners. It would also phase in the change in assessment over three years. The association's covenants require the homeowners association to collect on a property's highest valuation.

The legislation will now go to the House floor.

Pendergrass, a Howard County Democrat, drafted her bill in response to east Columbia's assessment increases averaging 33.4 percent last year. That brought in an extra $2.7 million from the association's annual charge, which is based on property assessments. West Columbia homes that were recently reassessed jumped an average 47.4 percent in value.

Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Howard Democrat who is on the panel, said she believes an assessment limit is necessary for the homeowners association.

"I think that if [a cap] is appropriate for the state government, and it's appropriate for the county government - although I know CA is not a government - nevertheless, I think it's appropriate that there be a cap there as well," she said.

Some directors on the Columbia Association board hope the state will amend the bill, to make the limit and phase-in voluntary. They argue that the state should not take away the association's ability to manage its affairs.

"We're not disagreeing with the cap itself," said board Chairman Miles Coffman, who testified before the committee this month, opposing the bill. "We're just saying it needs to be [voluntary]."

Other board members maintain the legislation should be mandatory to guarantee financial relief to property owners.

"I think it's very significant that not only did it pass out of committee, but it passed out of committee as it was written and unanimously," said board member Barbara Russell, who asked the committee to support the bill. "That's tremendous news."

McIntosh said the committee was "a bit leery" of HB 567, which would allow the association's operating rules to be changed through a referendum brought by at least 10 percent of the property owners instead of by unanimous approval. A majority would have to participate to make the vote valid, and two-thirds of those voting would then have to affirm the change.

Bobo said that while she believes the association's covenants should be easier to amend, she is not sure the bill called for the correct requirements.

"Frankly, it took enough focus and energy dealing with the cap bill, it seemed wiser to me to focus on that," she said.

Pendergrass said she was disappointed that the committee did not approve the legislation.

"Sometimes, it takes more than one year to get a piece of legislation passed," she said.

The association board did not support the bill, and the group had asked Pendergrass to delay the legislation a year to allow time to research the matter and develop a community consensus on an appropriate way to change the covenants.

"I thought that was just a bad bill. ... That one was a serious reach, I thought," Coffman said of HB 567. "

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