CA likely to lower cap on fee that property owners pay

February 19, 2006|By TYRONE RICHARDSON | TYRONE RICHARDSON,SUN REPORTER

The Columbia Association is likely this week to lower the cap on the annual charge that property owners pay and approve increases in fees that Columbia residents pay to use association sports and fitness facilities.

The association board will give final approval Wednesday to the fiscal 2007 budget. Last week, the board, on a 5-3 straw vote, agreed to lower the cap applied to its annual charge from 5 percent to 4 percent. The charge is the tax-like fee the association imposes on Columbia property owners based on property value. The charge is calculated at $0.68 for $100 of assessed value.

Miles Coffman, board representative for Hickory Ridge, recommended the cap decrease during a budget work session this month. Coffman said the reduction would cost the association money, but he said the 5 percent cap is too high.

Wolfger Schneider, a representative from Harper's Choice, and Patrick von Schlag, who represents River Hill, voted against the decrease. Von Schlag said he is in favor of reductions in the cap, but he said he believes the decision was ill-timed considering the reduction in revenue would force additional borrowing for capital and long-term projects.

In response, Coffman said: "We are not done with the capital budget, and there are changes in the timing [of projects]," he said. "I am hoping we will not be in a borrowing position, but it will make us make some tough decisions."

Votes for decrease

Barbara L. Russell, board representative for Oakland Mills, voted for the decrease in the cap.

"The question is whether we should spend more," she said. "There are ways to spend money, and there are ways of not increasing our debt. One way is to collect more money from the assessment payers and the other way is to not spend additional money on capital projects. I think we need to be a little more conservative on how we spend money."

The board also approved, on a straw vote, an increase in what Columbia residents pay for association sports and fitness facilities. The prices, which vary in each category, were recalculated after the board asked association staff members to increase the fees outlined in the draft budget.

Pools membership

The fee for a new outdoor pools membership, for example, would rise from $280 to $290.

"We are raising the fees a very nominal amount, and that is fair," Russell said. "It is fair that the users of the facilities should pay a nominal charge than burden residents of Columbia that pay the assessment charge."

In other developments:

The board approved a motion to have the staff present plans for a contingency fund for villages to pay higher energy costs. The report will be presented during Wednesday's final budget workshop.

The board agreed, on a straw vote, to lower the aggregate salary and wage increases from the proposed 3.5 percent to 3 percent.

The board did not approve a motion by Phil Marcus, representative of Kings Contrivance, to have the staff find ways to cut $1 million from the capital budget.

"There is stuff in the budget outside the specific projects ... that I think staff can pick and choose a little, and they can see there are things more important than others," Marcus said. "It is likely that although it failed approval, I think staff is likely to come up with some reductions before we vote on Wednesday."

tyrone.richardson@baltsun.com

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