Resident drops legal challenge of assessment Fight isn't over, Hekimian vows COLUMBIA


A Columbia resident has dropped his lawsuit contending that the Columbia Association has been overcharging him and all other property owners in Columbia on annual property assessments.

Albert Genemans has allowed the 30-day time period to petition his case to state court to expire. Howard County Circuit Court Judge Raymond J. Kane ruled April 13 that CA's method of levying the property charge was not unconstitutional and didn't violate covenants with Mr. Genemans.

But Mr. Genemans, a member of the citizens watchdog group, Alliance for a Better Columbia, and ABC's president, Alex Hekimian, said they intend to continue pushing the association to reduce the 73-cents-per-$100 lien.

"We're not going to give up on it as an issue," Mr. Hekimian said. "How it materializes, I can't say."

The Kings Contrivance resident contended in the suit that CA violated Columbia covenants and state law by charging him based on 50 percent of his property's assessed market value, and by not phasing in increases in property appraisals over a three-year period.

The state and county calculate property taxes based on 40 percent of assessed property value, and phase in increases in value over three years so tax bills increase more gradually.

Mr. Genemans argued that CA covenants require the private nonprofit organization to assess property no higher than the state and county do. But the judge ruled that state law provides an exception for private contracts and covenants, which applies to CA.

Mr. Genemans, who claimed that he was overcharged by $250 in 1991, appealed to Circuit Court after the county District Court rejected his claim last year. Since his right to appeal was exhausted, he would have had to convince the state court to take the case.

"It would be too costly. It's dead," Mr. Genemans said.

Mr. Genemans' attorney in the Circuit Court case, fellow ABC member and neighbor Chuck Rees, who provided his services for free, has since been elected to the Columbia Council, which ** acts as the association's board of directors.

Pam Mack, the association's spokeswoman, said that CA has maintained all along that its method of assessing property owners has been correct.

"Mr. Genemans has had his day in court and he's been ruled against," she said.

ABC members remain unconvinced.

Mr. Genemans said the governor's office responded to his letter raising questions about CA's assessment procedures by advising him to seek a remedy through the state legislature. He said he'll consider discussing the issue with Howard County's General Assembly delegation.

Ms. Mack said the General Assembly "always has upheld CA's position" in past modifications to property tax laws. "It's a very important position. It goes to the entire stability of CA on a financial basis."

Association attorney David H. Bamberger argued that the state legislature recognizes that tax exemptions are justified for private entities such as CA that provide facilities and services for the public.

The association charges property owners the annual fee to operate recreational facilities and community programs, and maintain open space areas.

Mr. Genemans said he was disappointed that the Circuit Court judge ruled from the bench and didn't offer a written opinion.

"Our case was quite complex, and the judge did not touch on any points," he said.

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