Columbia residents and workers would escape membership rate increases at Columbia Association facilities while outsiders would be chargedmore, under the association's $29.9 million operating budget proposed Thursday night.
"In difficult economic times, you're trying to be sensitive to people's needs and not raise rates," said association spokeswoman Pam Mack. From a fiscally conservative perspective, it's also good to avoid fee increases to discourage people from dropping their memberships, she said.
Rates would not go up for association members, who are either residents or full-time employees within the limits of Columbia, for the most popular membership plans, neighborhood pools and Package Plan, which offers access to facilities and programs.
Those who neither work nor live in Columbia, however, would see increases as high as $30for an annual family or two-person membership. Individual package plan members would not see an increase, however.
Association memberswould also escape increases on memberships in the Athletic Club, IceRink and the association's new showpiece athletic center, the Supreme Sports Club. Daily membership for Hobbit's Glen Golf Course would also remain the same, but annual membership fees would be increased between $10 and $73.
Holding the line on increases might not be enough to satisfy Columbia residents, maintains Alex Hekimian, president of the Alliance for a Better Columbia.
"I think for the 25 to 30 percent of the people in Columbia that participate in those recreational facilities, it's a good thing to keep prices stable. But there's the other 70 to 75 percent of the people that don't use the recreational facilities. They're looking for a break also," he said.
That break could be a decrease in the 75 cents per $100 of assessed value that Columbia property owners pay to the association or a limit on increases in assessed property value, he said.
The alliance has so farfailed to gain support for decreases in the property payments or limits on value. Hekimian said, however, that he believes current economic conditions will inspire residents to testify for decreases or a cap at a budget hearing scheduled for Feb. 5.
While keeping most fees from increasing for members, the operating budget would also increase some programs and devote more than $2 million toward retiring the association's $24 million deficit.
New or augmented programs wouldinclude the opening in September of the association's Town Hall nextto Lake Kittamaqundi with a Welcoming Center, the Columbia Archives and other Columbia institutions, several new summer camps.
The operating budget was presented Thursday along with a $4.8 million capital budget, which includes $1.3 million for 76,100 feet of new pathwaysand $170,000 for renovations to Town Center Plaza.