Board rejects part of bill


The Columbia Association board of directors agrees with Del. Shane E. Pendergrass that the association needs a 10 percent ceiling on rising property assessments, but it doesn't want the state to make CA impose one.

Backsliding from its original position of supporting Pendergrass' effort to require the 10 percent cap, the board has decided it wants Pendergrass to change her legislation to allow - not force - the association to use a cap.

In a 6-4 decision Thursday night, the board voted to tell Pendergrass that it would support her legislation - which also makes the cap retroactive - if she makes it voluntary.

But in an interview Friday, Pendergrass said making the bill voluntary "guts" it, and that she's not inclined to change her legislation.

"It's not that I don't trust the board, but things change, boards change," she said.

Board Chairman Miles Coffman said if the board allows the state to change how it operates, it will set a precedent of CA giving away its authority. CA's covenants require that the annual charge is based on the maximum assessed property amount each year, rather than phasing in the change in assessment over three years.

"It is an unprecedented attack on one organization," he said.

Coffman said he is certain that if CA were given the opportunity to use an assessment cap, the board would vote to impose one, but that the state needs to let the board do its job.

"Let us use [the cap] as a tool, let us operate in a manner we're supposed to operate," Coffman said. " ... I don't believe this group would not impose a phase-in."

Board Vice Chairman Joshua Feldmark, who voted against the decision, was flummoxed by such reasoning.

"Are we really going to go forward and say we would do exactly what Shane wants us to do as long as she doesn't tell us to?" said Feldmark, who called the board's argument "juvenile."

"If we're going to do it anyway, who cares if it's mandated?"

The board's decision Thursday comes after Pendergrass, a Howard County Democrat, offered the board a compromise on two bills she has drafted that would affect CA. On Jan. 16, Pendergrass offered to delay legislation that would allow a majority of voting property owners to change CA's covenants if the association supported her bill imposing a retroactive 10 percent ceiling.

If the board does not accept Pendergrass' proposal, she will go ahead with both bills.

Pendergrass said she spoke to Coffman on Friday and told him to "take the deal or not take the deal - that's the deal."

Pendergrass also offered in her proposal, at the board's request, to change the 10 percent ceiling bill so CA would offer credits, not rebates, to east Columbians who paid more than a 10 percent increase after assessments there jumped an average of 33.4 percent.

That increase prompted Pendergrass' legislation and brought an extra $2.7 million in revenue to the homeowners association's 2004 budget.

West Columbia home values recently skyrocketed an average of 47.4 percent.

CA President Maggie J. Brown said Thursday night that Pendergrass' legislation would usurp CA's ability to manage its business. She conceded the association should have addressed the assessment rate in its 2004 budget.

"We made a mistake," Brown said. "We should have reduced the rate last year."

The association's 2005 and 2006 budgets include a 10-cent drop in the annual charge, which would make it 63 cents per $100 of valuation assessed on 50 percent of the fair market value. The board is scheduled to approve the 2005 budget next month, when it also will conditionally approve the 2006 budget.

The board originally told Pendergrass, at a meeting Jan. 10, that it supported the 10 percent ceiling but did not want it to be retroactive. It also asked her to delay the covenant bill so the panel could gather a consensus on an appropriate process to change the covenants.

CA's covenants can be altered only with unanimous approval of property owners. Pendergrass' bill seeks to allow changes to the rules if at least 10 percent of the property owners petition for an amendment, which would then have to be approved by 51 percent of those casting ballots.

Thursday night, board member Pearl Atkinson-Stewart of Owen Brown called Pendergrass' offer "blackmail." Board member Donna L. Rice of Town Center characterized it as "holding us hostage."

"This board did not seek Shane Pendergrass' intervention here," Rice said " ... I feel that this is an imposition on this board to expect the board to go along with this."

Board member Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills, who voted against the board's decision, said Pendergrass did compromise by offering to require credits and to delay the covenant bill.

"That's not holding us hostage," she said. " ... That's the way legislation happens."

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