Overview of Approved CA FY2019-2020 Budget (The Villager 2018-03)

Overview of Approved CA FY2019-2020 Budget

The article is published on The Villager of River Hill Community Association, 2018-03 issue.

On Thursday, February 22, the Columbia Association’s (CA) Board of Directors approved the FY2019 and Conditional FY2020 Budget. In FY 2019-2020, the annual charge rate will be $0.68 of every 100 dollars of the assessed value of the property with a 3.5% cap. I made a motion to bring down the annual charge rate to $0.65 (around 4.4% decrease) which failed. I will continue advocating for a lower annual charge rate in the future. I believe many residents are negatively impacted by this high annual charge fee due to the cap being increase from 2.5% to 3.5% and the continued rise of property values in our community. The membership fee also keeps climbing up each year. I believe that by lowering the cap, Columbia residents will have more disposable income to purchase CA fitness memberships that will offset the loss of assessment share income.

I made a motion to remove approximately $200,000 dollars in funding for village sign replacement since a majority of villages do not like the new sign design. This motion passed. During the budget process, the Board had a lot of discussion on the membership fee, construction of modular houses for Columbia Horse Center, maintenance of CA bridges and tunnels, the outlook for Haven on the Lake, and funding to the Inner Arbor Trust for pathway construction in Symphony Woods. An overview of the approved budget is given below.

Total FY19 budgeted revenue and annual borrowings are $81,798,000. The breakdown by source is provided below ($000’s):

Interest and other $972 (1.2%)
Borrowing $7,316 (8.9%)
Commercial Annual Charge $14,160 (17.3%)
Residential Annual Charge $26,296 (32.2%)
Community Services Programs, $4,775 (5.8%)
Sport and Fitness Income, $28,279(34.6%)

In FY19, the $81,798,000 will be used in the following ways (000’s):

Sport and Fitness Programs and Facilities: $29,371 (35.9%)
Contingencies/other $506 (0.6%)
Administrative Services $2,289 (2.8%)
Village Community Associations $5,411 (6.6%)
Community Services Programs $7,827 (9.6%)
Capital Expenditures $20,000 (24.5%)
Debt Repayment $1,895 (2.3%)
Board of Directors $1,002 (1.2%)
Open Space Management $13,497 (16.5%)

Major capital projects (greater than $500,000) approved for FY19 and FY 20 include:

Columbia Swim Center – Phase III Renovations $1,225,000
Watershed improvement projects $710,000
Athletic Club – Phase II Renovations $5,000,000
Columbia Gym – HVAC $600,000
Horse Center – Facility Assessment Survey Items $655,000
Supreme Sports Club Renovation $4,700,000
Haven on the Lake – Site Renovation $1,000,000
Slayton House-Theater Renovations $515,000
Columbia-Wide HVAC Systems $600,000
Columbia-Wide Watershed Stabilization $850,000
Columbia Wide Ponds Dredging and Repairs $846,000
Lake Elkhorn Planning and Dredging $1,090,000
Equipment and Vehicles $800,000
Sport and Fitness Facilities and Equipment Upgrades $550,000
Columbia-Wide Bridge Replacement $615,000
Columbia-Wide Pathway Renovations $1,000,000
Aquatics- Hawthorn ADA-Complaint Wading Pool $500,000
Headquarters Building –Reserve for Deposit $1,100,000
Stonehouse – Full Building Renovation $750,000

To view more information on CA’s FY19/20 budget, visit: www.columbiaassociation.org/budget.

Chao Wu, Ph.D.
River Hill Representative to Columbia Council and Columbia Association Board of Directors

Email: superbwu@gmail.com Website: http://www.chaowu.org

Disclaimer: This letter only represents Dr. Chao Wu’s personal opinion. It does not represent River Hill Board of Directors nor Columbia Association’s Board.

2018 CA Budget Public Hearing (The Villager, 2018-02)

2018 Columbia Association Budget Public Hearing Summary and Other News

The article will be published in the River Hill “The Villager”, 2018 February Issue.

Columbia Association News

The Columbia Association’s (CA) board of directors has been discussing the 2019-2020 budget for several months and held a budget public forum on January 18.

During the public forum, the CA board heard the following testimonies:

  1. One village association asked for specific facility upgrades and funding for special programs. They also expressed dissatisfaction with the assessment share and contingency fund decisions made by the CA board earlier in the budget process.
  2. Several organizations asked for continued support of the Columbia Council of Arts and the Columbia Downtown Partnership.
  3. The Howard County Pickleball Association asked for support of pickleball activities by sharing courts with tennis court or building a dedicated indoor pickleball court.
  4. The CA Aquatics Advisory Committee requested a new 25-yard indoor swimming pool. In 2017, CA and Howard County conducted a joint study for 50-meter pool and could not find an appropriate location.
  5. Several people and organizations, either supported or opposed CA giving more than $500,000 to Inner Arbor Trust for pathway construction in Symphony Woods. A playground in Symphony Woods was also discussed. For information purposes, a 1-acre playground costs around one million dollars.

The CA board is expected to vote on the budget at the February 22 board meeting. The board would still like to hear your input. Send your comments to: Board.Members@ColumbiaAssociation.org.

River Hill News

Dalia Shlash, the River Hill board’s open space liaison, held a community meeting on January 18 to discuss site selection and upgrades for two tot lots in River Hill. Based on feedback from residents and CA, the Indian Summer Drive tot lot (RH25) and the River Run tot lot (RH4) are the locations that the association will likely recommend to CA for upgrades. The Association did hear from residents requesting upgrades to the South Wind Circle tot lot (RH22). The Association will consider requesting upgrades to this tot lot in a future phase.

The River Hill community association continues to actively share its views on the River Hill Square and Erickson Senior Living developments near the village.

Chao Wu, Ph.D.

River Hill Representative to Columbia Council and Columbia Association Board of Directors

Email: superbwu@gmail.com Website: http://www.chaowu.org

Disclaimer: This letter only represents Dr. Chao Wu’s personal opinion. It does not represent River Hill Board of Directors nor Columbia Association’s Board.

Where Does CA’s Money Go

Where Does CA’s Money Go?

This article is published on the January 2018 issue of  “The Villager”.

In this issue, I am writing to show how costly it is for the Columbia Association (CA) to maintain and fix its current facilities.  This article partially responds to the question I heard during the holidays, “Where does CA’s money go?” Many residents see their annual charge continuing to increase and the gym membership is more expensive than ever.

As a CA board member, I want to make sure the association is spending its money wisely. CA has an annual budget of approximately $70 Million. Besides our human resource costs (the organization has around 270 full-time employees and 700 part-time employees), the Association must continually make capital improvements that come at a cost.

In June 2016, the CA board was presented with a 5-year capital improvement plan. Based on recently conducted facility assessments, the plan estimated the following replacement costs (in 2016 dollars) for 7 buildings:

Athletic Club replacement                  $24M

Ice Rink replacement                          $16.5M

Art Center replacement                      $3.3M

Stonehouse replacement                     $6.5M

The Other Barn replacement              $4.5M

Teen Center replacement                    $3.5M

Maintenance Facility replacement     $11.5M

As an alternative to full replacement, the report also identified needed improvements, upgrades, and repairs for each of these buildings. Ultimately, the CA board only approved funds for improvements to the Ice Rink (FY18) and the Athletic Club in (FY18-19). The proposed FY19/20 budget finishes this work and starts improvements for the Art Center and Stonehouse. In addition to these facilities, CA still has the Supreme Sports Club, Slayton House, Kahler Hall and many other facilities which need upgrades and repairs.

Five Year Capital Spending Budget

The 5-year capital improvement plan estimated that the following capital budgets were needed just to maintain, repair, and upgrade existing facilities:

FY2018           $23.2M

FY2019           $19.6M

FY2020           $17.8M

FY2021           $16.5M

FY2022           $17.5M

These budgets do not include things like dredging Lake Elkhorn, the rental of CA’s headquarters building, or construction of any new facilities. Over the next ten years, the organization needs $5M just for pond management. Using this information, a priority list was established and the CA Board budgeted money for the Ice Rink and Athletic Club. In FY19/20, we plan to spend $4.7M on the Supreme Sports Club. Into the foreseeable future, CA will continue to have multi-million-dollar capital requirements to repair/upgrade/maintain our facilities and associated items. Any decision to construct a new facility will require additional capital funding and as well as operating funds.

Renovation or New Construction

Of course, when presented with the costs of fixing/repairing/upgrading a facility, the CA Board should look at whether a replacement would be more cost effective. In fact, when considering how to proceed with the Hobbits Glen Clubhouse and Owen Brown Tennis Bubble, the CA Board decided that replacement made better economic sense. Therefore, a new Hobbit’s Glen Clubhouse was built, and a new indoor tennis facility is under construction in the Village of Long Reach.

Happy New Year and I am looking forward to hearing from you.

Chao Wu, Ph.D.

River Hill Representative to Columbia Council and Columbia Association Board of Directors

Email: superbwu@gmail.com Website: http://www.chaowu.org

Disclaimer: This letter only represents Dr. Chao Wu’s personal opinion. It does not represent River Hill Board of Directors nor Columbia Association’s Board.


2018-1-The Villager Cover

December Community News Update (The Villager 2017-12)

December Community News Update

This article is published on the River Hill Community Association “The Villager” 2017 December issue.

Columbia Association Side

At the request from many community members, the Columbia Association (CA) Board of Directors recently affirmed the Paris Agreement on climate change and remains committed to clean energy. I am glad that CA has been a pioneer for environmental protection and clean energy adoption. I hope this act will encourage individuals in our community to take steps to reduce their personal carbon footprint by doing such things as walking more and maintaining reasonable room temperatures. Walk our walk, not talk our talk.

Other recent CA Board highlights:

  • Held a discussion on New Town Zoning with Howard County DPZ and Consultants;
  • Discussed and approved the new and simpler Assessment Share for the Columbia villages;
  • Discussed the village associations’ contingency fund (around half million dollars) and decided the funds will be distributed among the 10 villages (each village gets 5%) and CA (gets 50%).
  • Discussed and approved a 20% Cap on Cash Reserves for the villages.
  • Discussed major capital projects and new operating initiatives received to-date in the Proposed FY 2019 and Conditional FY 2020 Budgets

School System Side

Many community members have kept an eye on or become involved in the school redistricting process since summer. The Board of Education made the final decision on attendance areas for the 2018-2019 school year on November 16. Here is how the River Hill area is impacted:

  • Pointers Run Elementary will receive Polygon 127 from Clements Crossing Elementary.
  • Clarksville Middle School will receive from Lime Kiln Middle School Polygons 117, 118, 120, 123, 126, 127, 296, 1117, 1120, 1123, 1296.
  • High school overcrowding will be mitigated by the JumpStart Program and Direct Enrollment Program. River Hill High School will receive students from other crowded high schools.

Happy Thanksgiving! Be prepared for the cold winter and enjoy the happiness of the holidays.

Chao Wu, Ph.D.

River Hill Representative to Columbia Council and Columbia Association Board of Directors

Email: chaowu2016@gmail.com Website: http://www.chaowu.org

Disclaimer: This letter only represents Dr. Chao Wu’s personal opinion. It does not represent River Hill Board of Directors nor Columbia Association’s Board.

Photo: The big tree inside the Mall of Columbia.

We Need to Improve Our System Modeling (The Villager 2017-11)

We Need to Improve Our System Modeling

This article is published in the River Hill “The Villager”, November 2017 Issue.

In this column, I will briefly present information about two system modeling problems that negatively impact the River Hill community from Columbia Association (CA) and Howard County Public School System (HCPSS).

Case I: Columbia Association Assessment Share Formula.

A CA work team has been analyzing the formula that determines the amount of money that is distributed to each village association from the assessments paid by Columbia property owners. This Assessment Share forms the foundation for each village’s income stream, with additional revenue generated by rental of the village-managed buildings, newsletter advertising, and various programs and services. As the River Hill Board of Directors was preparing a response to the CA work team on the revised formula, there was a debate on how to simplify the formula. CA board members hear complaints that the current formula is too complicated and a simpler model is needed.

The fallacy is that simplicity results in a better or more accurate model. During the River Hill Board’s discussion, one example of over simplicity identified was with the computation of the newsletter printing costs that was factored into the formula component . The proposed formula uses a flat rate:

formula 1

where x is the printing rate and N is the number of copies. So, if we print 2000 copies, the cost is 2000 * x dollars. If we print 10000 copies, the cost is 10000 * x dollars.  Based on this, the more copies a village needs (a.k., the larger population the village has), the more beneficial the assessment share formula will be. However, in reality, we know printing rates vary depending on the volume of the copies. A slightly better model will account for varying rates, for example:

formula 2

where we have two different printing rates, , for different printing volumes. Usually,  x1 is larger than x2.

As a result, the over-simplified model in Equation (1) gives unfair advantage to villages printing more newsletters. Villages with smaller populations, such as River Hill, are negatively impacted. Similarly, other over-simplified models were used to compute other cost components of the assessment share formula. As a result, the final recommended formula does not accurately reflect the true expenses of each village.

Case II: School Population Prediction.

When Renee Kamen, Manager of Office of School Planning of HCPSS, attended a recent redistricting forum sponsored by the River Hill Community Association, she stated the HCPSS student population prediction model is accurate within 1% error, which implied the predictions model is very accurate. However, based on research by River Hill residents, Pointers Run Elementary School (PRES) consistently receives around 10% more students than predicted by the HCPSS model in recent years. So, the overall accuracy of the model masks the populations in some schools. After examining the actual enrollment numbers at PRES during 2002-2012, analysis shows a continuous decline in student population. However, the student population bounces back very quickly after that. In the HCPSS student projection model, student population at PRES decreases continuously into 2018. Obviously, the HCPSS prediction model does not take into account the current enrollment trend at PRES.

In this case, for each individual school, no matter how accurate the overall prediction is, it does not matter. It only matters when the model predicts the right student number at the school. If not, the model fails. The school system needs to find a way to modify, improve and validate the current student population prediction model as it is being used to support school redistricting.

I hope this article gives you some idea of how an over-simplified or inaccurate model can impact our community and the importance of  getting the mathematical modeling correct.


Chao Wu, Ph.D.

River Hill Representative to Columbia Council and Columbia Association Board of Directors

Email: chaowu2016@gmail.com  Website: http://www.chaowu.org

Disclaimer: This letter only represents Dr. Chao Wu’s personal opinion. It does not represent River Hill Board of Directors nor Columbia Association’s Board.

A Bridge to the Future (The Villager 2017-10)

A Bridge to the Future

This article was published in The Villager of River Hill Community Association, October 2017 Issue.

After the first village, Wilde Lake, was built 50 years ago, Columbia has become a very large city with more than 100,000 people, 2000 business and a very vibrant community. The Howard County Citizens Association (HCCA) made a documentary film about the last 50 years and challenged the community to think about how Columbia can continue to be built for a bright future.

To ensure a bright future of Columbia for the next 50 years, we need a planned and visionary development in both education and housing aspects.

First, our educational system must adapt to the changes we anticipate. With fast advancement in automation and artificial intelligence, future life and work will be quite different from today’s. Manual labor and tedious work will be replaced by the computer and robotics. Computer literacy will be a must for many future workers. So, our education system will need to adapt to educate the workforce of the future. We need to ensure our school system is guided by student-focused principles:

  1. motivate all students to achieve their full and diverse potential
  2. expanding learning opportunities to all students by utilizing all available resources

Second, all housing and commercial developments should provide the infrastructure needed to support the uses, especially the need for schools. This can partially be regulated by tightening the Adequate Public Ordinance (APFO) which is currently being debated by the County Council. I testified on behalf of myself at the County Council and made the following points:

Three loopholes should be removed:

  1. Include the high schools in the capacity test. I am not sure why high schools were not included in the test more than 10 years ago.
  2. Remove the waiting time for development. Now, when a development does not pass a capacity test, it will automatically pass after waiting for four years (in reality, three years) without a second test
    . This practice should be abolished.
  3. Include the Medium and Low Income Housing (MLIH) units in the development unit cap. For each new development, it is required that 15% of the units be MLIH. However, this 15% (i.e., around 300 units) is not presently counted in the annual cap of 2000 new residential units.

Two Numbers should be revised:

  1. The school capacity limit should be set at 100%, not 115%.
  2. The developer fee should be raised substantially. For comparable housing units, the developers in Howard County are paying less than 10% of the development fee in Montgomery County. Housing prices in Howard County are not cheaper than those in Montgomery County to justify this huge fee difference.

I support development since only continuous economic, housing and social development and improvement will solve many problems we face today. However, the development should be planned with a long -term vision. Unregulated development will lead to chaos. Tightening APFO now will give our legislators a rare opportunity to address the problems created over the last 15 years.

Some neighborhood news:

County Executive Allan Kittleman proposed a new site for the High School 13 on Landing Road in Elkridge and asked the Howard County Public School System to delay high school redistricting until this high school is built in 2022. Previously the proposed location for High School 13 was on Mission Road in Jessup.

The school redistricting process has created many heated debates, anxiety, and expectations in the county. I encourage everyone to be civil and respect others’ opinions during this difficult time. The superintendent, Dr. Martirano, will provide his final redistricting recommendation to the Board of Education on Oct. 3.

Columbia Association (CA) is developing the FY19 and FY 20 budgets. The CA Board has heard from residents and villages about their funding needs. We will continue work on our budget until early next year.

CA Board Members also looked at the Lakefront Core Design Guidelines during the September board work session and will provide feedback to the Department of Zoning and Planning on the development.

The River Hill Village Board is working with CA and residents to upgrade two existing tot lots to meet residents’ needs. The Village Board will solicit resident feedback on upgrades.

Thanks for reading. I am looking forward to hearing your feedback.

Chao Wu, Ph.D.

River Hill Representative to Columbia Council and Columbia Association Board of Directors

Email: chaowu2016@gmail.com Website: http://www.chaowu.org

Disclaimer: This letter only represents Dr. Chao Wu’s personal opinion. It does not represent River Hill Board of Directors nor Columbia Association’s Board.

The picture was taken on 10/1/2017 morning at the Centennial Lake while I joined the Centennial Runner Group for Breast Cancer Awareness fund raising event.


Busy Fall Agendas (The Villager 2017-09)

Busy Fall Agendas

By Dr. Chao Wu,  This article is published on The Villager of River Hill, September 2017 issue.

The fall is a busy time for everyone, including the River Hill Community Association (RHCA) and Columbia Association (CA). In September, the River Hill Board of Directors (RHBOD) will host a public forum related to school redistricting. There are two proposals in front of the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) superintendent: One is from the HCPSS 2017 Feasibility Study and the other one has been developed by the Area Attendance Committee. The proposals have different impacts on Clarksville Elementary School, Pointers Run Elementary School, Clarksville Middle School, River Hill High School and Atholton High School. The RHBOD wants to use this public forum to channel residents’ redistricting concerns. The RHBOD is holding another meeting with residents in September to explore the potential for a community playground or updated tot lots in the village. The CA Board Operations Committee has finalized agendas for meetings this fall. Here are some highlights:


1. Community Stakeholders provide input for consideration for the FY 2019 and FY 2020 draft budgets.
2. Analyze Village Financials.
3. Discuss Lakefront core design guidelines.
4. Discuss FY 2018 1st quarter financial report (May, June and July 2017). This report will provide the board members with some understanding of the implementation of the new membership structure and pricing.
5. Discuss assessment share committee final report and recommendations.


1. Work on major capital projects, new initiatives and community stakeholder requests, for the proposed FY 2019 and Conditional FY 2020 budgets.
2. Review CA dashboard.
3. Discuss and vote on the Paris Climate Accord, encouraging other entities and our residents to reduce carbon footprints.


1. Meet with Howard County Department of Zoning to discuss New Town Zoning.
2. Overview of CA Open Space and Facilities Services Department.

Chao Wu, Ph.D.
 River Hill Representative to Columbia Council and Columbia Association Board of Directors
 Email: chaowu2016@gmail.com Website: http://www.chaowu.org
 Disclaimer: This letter only represents Dr. Chao Wu’s personal opinion. It does not represent River Hill Board of Directors nor Columbia Association’s Board.