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CA fails to meet budget goals

For the first time in more than a decade, the Columbia Association failed to meet its annual budget goals because a new state law forced $1.9 million in refunds to property owners whose assessments skyrocketed last year.

Despite falling $625,000 short of its budget projections, the association ended the fiscal year with a $3.8 million surplus.

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The General Assembly voted earlier this year to place a 10 percent limit on the association's annual revenue growth from rising property assessments. The law is retroactive to east Columbia's 33.4 percent increase last year, forcing CA to return $1.9 million to property owners for the fiscal year that ended April 30.

"A reserve was created during the fourth quarter for this purpose," CA President Maggie J. Brown told the association's board of directors last week.

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West Columbia properties were also recently reassessed, jumping in value by an average of 47.4 percent.

Residents in east Columbia will receive a credit on the assessment bills that CA will send next month. The bills will also reflect the new rate for the annual charge, which the board has lowered by a nickel - to 68 cents per $100 of valuation assessed on 50 percent of a property's value.

Under the new rate and assessment limit, the owner of a house previously valued at $200,000, whose worth increased 40 percent to $280,000, would pay charges of $748, $822 and $905, respectively, over three years. Without the 10 percent limit, the same homeowner would pay $952 each year.

Despite the $3.8 million surplus - which is smaller than those of the past two years, when the association had surpluses exceeding $5 million - the association's four departments reported deficits for this fiscal year.

The sport and fitness division ended with a $2.6 million deficit, which was $341,000 larger than expected.

The division's shortfall was attributed to wet weather during the second and third quarters that discouraged people from using the association's outdoor pools, tennis courts and golf clubs, said Rob Goldman, CA's vice president for sport and fitness. Those areas fell below budget projections by a combined $1.1 million, he said.

But Goldman sees sunnier days ahead. In May, CA finished the nine-month, $1.2 million renovation of Hobbit's Glen Golf Club, in which the clubhouse was refurbished and 16 greens were rebuilt, three regraded and one moved. "CA golf is now well-positioned for future success," Goldman said.

Poor weather that kept people off golf courses last year drove people into the fitness centers. CA's three gyms exceeded projections by a combined $487,000, with the clubs reporting $5.3 million in net revenue from operations.

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The CA open space department closed the year with a $10.7 million deficit, which was $753,000 smaller than expected. The department had a significant success this year with its RV park breaking even in net revenue from operations for the first time, said Chick Rhodehamel, vice president for open space management.

The community services division also ended the year better than budgeted, with a $5.9 million deficit - $744,000 less than projected. More than 4,000 children from preschool to 10th grade participated in the association's 24 camps last summer, said Michelle Miller, the association's director of community services. And more than 1,000 children daily used the association's before- and after-school care, she said.

The association's administrative services also ended the year in the red, with a $5 million deficit, which was $246,000 larger than budgeted.


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