House approves bill to cap Columbia Association levy

Pendergrass measure heads next to Md. Senate

March 21, 2004|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

The House of Delegates has approved a bill that would impose a 10 percent cap on rising property assessments in Columbia.

The bill, passed in a unanimous vote Friday, aims to offer financial relief to Columbia residents. It now heads to the Senate.

"Whoopee!" exclaimed Del. Shane E. Pendergrass, a co-sponsor of the bill, after the House vote. " ... I'm feeling that a unanimous vote is a strong message. I'm really pleased."

The proposed legislation would limit the impact of sharply rising state property tax assessments on the unique charge that the Columbia Association imposes on its property owners - which is based on property values. The bill 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 each year, unlike the county's process, which phases in the changes over three years.

Pendergrass, a Howard County Democrat, wrote the legislation in response to skyrocketing property assessments in the planned community. Assessments of east Columbia homes increased an average of 33.4 percent last year. West Columbia homes that were recently reassessed jumped an average 47.4 percent in assessed value.

Revenue from the annual charge is the Columbia Association's primary source of income, and the association board is divided in its support for the legislation. Some want the cap and phase-in of assessment changes to be mandatory and others want them to be voluntary.

The Environmental Matters Committee unanimously approved the bill last week. The panel killed another bill drafted by Pendergrass that would have allowed two-thirds of voting property owners to amend the association's covenants. The association's covenants can be altered only by unanimous approval of property owners.

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