Association fields queries about budget

Hobbit's Glen spending, facility rates questioned

Fiscal process continues

Staff tries to dispel idea of an untouched surplus


January 13, 2003|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

In the first formal presentation of the Columbia Association's proposed $45.8 million 2004 fiscal budget, residents and village representatives questioned association staff about plans to renovate Hobbit's Glen Golf Club and to increase some facility membership resident rates more than 2 percent.

Before about 30 residents Thursday night at Wilde Lake's Slayton House, the staff tried to squelch the perception that the projected $4.4 million surplus - about half of which is coming from higher lien payments from increased home assessments in east Columbia - will be sitting in a pot, waiting to be spent.

Rafia Siddiqui, the association's vice president for administrative services, said the association has a $3.4 million cash shortfall estimated for 2004 because cash flow is estimated to be $11.4 million, but CA needs $14.8 million for capital projects and debt payments.

"It's not a true surplus," Siddiqui said. "We're still borrowing."

Steven Pine of Kings Contrivance said that with the increased money from lien payments, he didn't understand the need for higher facility membership resident rates.

He questioned why some of the surplus can't be put toward the proposed $679,000 renovation of Hobbit's Glen Golf Club's damaged greens, one of the major projects proposed in the $7.5 million capital portion of the budget.

"It seems to me like I'm paying for it twice," Pine said.

Most of the association's facilities have proposed annual membership increases of at least 2 percent. Hobbit's Glen, Fairway Hills Golf Club and the outdoor tennis/air structure are the only facilities that are planned to keep the same 2003 rates. Rates for the associations discount buying service, which provides members discounts to local businesses and CA programs, also are proposed to remain the same.

For the association's Package Plan I membership (which includes membership to CA's 23 outdoor pools, two tennis clubs, three gyms, two golf courses, ice rink and swim center), the resident family rate is proposed to rise 2.6 percent, from $684 in 2003 to $702 in 2004. The fee for a nonresident family is proposed to increase 2.8 percent, from $1,404 in 2003 to $1,443 in 2004.

Outdoor pool rates may be raised 3 percent for a resident family membership (from $265 in 2003 to $273 in 2004) and 3.4 percent for a nonresident family membership (from $595 in 2003 to $615 in 2004).

Siddiqui said the nonresident fee is set at market rate, and the association's board of directors instructs the staff to set the resident rate at a certain percentage lower than the nonresident price.

However, Pine said he didn't see how nonresidents would be contributing to the Hobbit's Glen renovation, and he worries the association would be "improving the quality of life for nonresidents" because they would benefit from the course's improvements.

Robert D. Bellamy, CA's operations manager for the sport and fitness facilities division, said the work at the golf course should be looked at as "reinvesting in the facility," explaining that if it isn't done, the course's quality will continue to decline. He also added that the goal is to "maximize the income from nonresidents."

"In pricing strategies so far, we've made a lot more money off of nonresidents," he said, acknowledging that doesn't include the money residents pay through lien fees.

However, Alex Hekimian, president of the citizen watchdog group Alliance for a Better Columbia, said the membership income seems to be "hitting a wall," hovering around $13 million for the past two years. That steady rate could be attributed to residents not wanting to buy memberships because of the increased fees, Hekimian said.

In 2001, the association's sports and fitness department brought in $13 million in membership fees; in 2002, that portion of income contributed $13.8 million; in 2003, estimates are for $13.8 million; and 2004 is projected to have almost $14 million in memberships income.

Bellamy noted that the membership retention rate is about 74 percent and that the increase in membership fees also track with the rate of inflation.

To further improve the conditions at Hobbit's Glen, Gary Coyle of Harper's Choice asked whether the association has considered leasing the golf course, pointing to the success of the Horse Center since it was run by a contractor starting in 2001. The center closed fiscal year 2002 $120,000 in debt, a significant improvement compared with the $417,000 deficit it had the previous year.

Bellamy said that any company leasing both Hobbit's Glen and Fairway Hills would have to pay CA the amount of money the association makes in net from operations from the courses to make a leasing deal financially feasible. In 2003, CA estimates to make a combined $589,000 from both courses in operations.

Vince Marando, a member of the Wilde Lake Village Board, questioned whether the association has looked at how Hobbit's Glen is managed. He said he would like to see a study that examines the course's management and the course's original design, which association officials have maintained is one of the contributing factors to the damaged greens.

"Management is central to those issues," he said.

(A group of longtime golfers has maintained the management of Hobbit's Glen, not its physical condition, is the primary source of the course's problems.)

CA President Maggie J. Brown said the Columbia Council has charged the budget committee to look at management issues, examining how the association's facilities provides services to the public.

CA's board will approve the budget on either Feb. 19 or 20. It is scheduled to hold work sessions Thursday, Jan. 30, Feb. 6 and Feb. 13, if necessary. A public hearing is also scheduled for Jan. 22.

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