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Q: I don’t use any of the open space or CA’s recreation facilities, nor do I have a CA membership. Why do I have to pay an annual charge?

CA is a community-controlled, private, nonprofit community services corporation created to provide services and amenities for the benefit of Columbia. The annual charge has been the responsibility of residents and businesses since Columbia was established. If your property is protected by CA covenants, your deed requires you to pay an annual charge.

If you’re wondering what you get from your annual charge, you can start by looking outside — to the nearly 3,600 acres of open space and 95 miles of pathways, to the lakes, ponds, tot lots and athletic courts, and to the free concerts, movies and other cultural programming provided throughout the year. This is all part of providing the high quality of life that has seen Columbia frequently ranked among the top places to live in America, including being named the No. 1 small city in America by Money Magazine in 2016.

Q: Why am I paying a membership fee if my annual charge pays for the upkeep of fitness facilities, tennis courts and so on?

The income provided by the annual charge, while significant, covers only slightly more than half of the cost of the services provided by Columbia Association. Therefore, some of the most popular activities, such as pool and fitness club memberships, require the payment of dues and fees. Since CA resident members pay both membership dues and the annual charge, their dues are significantly lower than those paid by non-residents.

This approach creates a strong community balance. Those who use CA facilities and programs support the greatest portion of those costs, while the expense of maintaining and operating universal amenities are shared by all residents. A recent survey showed that CA services are well-used and enjoyed by the community — 94 percent have used at least one of the amenities including the open space, and 72 percent have become members or used the sports and fitness facilities, camps, before and after school care or the Art Center on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Q: How much is the annual charge, and how is it assessed?

CA’s annual charge has two components: a property assessment provided by the State Department of Assessments and Taxation and a rate set by the CA Board. The rate, unchanged since 2004, is 68 cents for every $100 of 50% of your state-assessed property valuation (almost 10% below the maximum of 75 cents).

What that means is that if your home is assessed by the state at $400,000, CA’s annual charge would be incurred on $200,000 in assessed value for a total of $1,360.

Q: How do I know if my lender is going to pay the annual charge for me?

It’s always a good idea to look at your escrow account and check with your lender to see how your annual charge is being handled.

Q: Can I pay my annual charge online?

Annual charge online payment by e-check (bank draft), Discover, Mastercard or American Express is available through the Govolution Velocity Payment System. For more information, click here.

Q: How do I know how much to pay and when?

Refer to your CA bill to ensure that you pay on time and to input your payment information. Payment of your CA annual charge bill is due within 30 days of invoice date. Interest will accrue at the rate of 0.50% per month (6% per year) until this bill is paid in full.

Q: We sold our property. Why are we still receiving the annual charge invoice?

CA receives ownership information monthly from the State Department of Assessments and Taxation, and it takes a period of time for the state to record property transfers. Once your deed is recorded and the state ownership information changes, we update our records.

Q: Why do I have to bring in a copy of my Howard County tax bill to show my senior/ homeowner’s/veteran’s tax credit? I brought it in last year.

Just as you have to reapply for the Howard County tax credit each year, you must also submit that new tax credit amount to CA so that we can recalculate your annual charge. The information on the Howard County tax bill is used to calculate your CA-adjusted invoice amount.

Q: Why is my neighbor’s fee less than mine?

CA’s annual charge is based on values provided to us by the State Department of Assessments and Taxation. Several factors are involved, including the size of the home and the timing of its purchase. In the first year following a purchase, your fee is based on the state’s phase-in value. A neighbor who has been in their home for several years will have a different beginning phase-in value, which could result in a lower bill.

Q: What is the annual charge cap?

We follow the same methodology as Howard County and the state in applying a cap to increases in property value. The cap is not applied to property the first year following a purchase. Instead, the state’s phase-in value is used that year to calculate the annual charge, and that value may be higher than the previous owner’s last value.

Sometimes property values can rise rapidly, and when that happens so can state property tax bills and CA annual charge assessments. That’s why the state and CA have caps in place.

In previous years, especially 2002 through 2006, the state increased property assessments in Columbia significantly — in some cases by 45 to 50%. State law requires that year-to-year charges based on property assessments can increase by no more than 10%.

CA for years further reduced that cap. It went from 10% to 5% in 2006, down to 4% in 2007, to 3% in 2008, and to 2.5% in 2009. In 2016, CA’s Board of Directors voted to increase the annual charge cap for the first time to 3.5%.

This change is intended to help CA pay for planned capital improvements to the amenities and facilities enjoyed by Columbia’s residents, guests and other stakeholders. Many of these features were built early on in Columbia to help attract people to our wonderful community. Now some of them need improvements and renovations over the coming years to help Columbia remain a community of choice.

It still takes quite a few years to catch up to a significant increase in your property value. The assessed value cannot increase by more than the cap unless there are significant improvements made to the property and/or the ownership of the property changes during a given year.

Under CA’s current annual charge cap, a home that went up in value from $400,000 to $440,000 — a 10% increase — would be assessed for CA’s annual charge at $207,000 instead of $220,000. That means the annual charge payment would be $1,408 that year instead of $1,496.

Q: How do I reach CA’s Annual Charge office?

Email AnnualCharge@ColumbiaAssociation.org or call the Annual Charge general voicemail line at 410-715-3137; messages are returned in the order they are received.. The Annual Charge office is located at CA Headquarters, 6310 Hillside Court in Columbia. We are open from 9am-4:30pm.