The Columbia Association's proposed budget for fiscal year 2001 tells of a place grown up, where the neighborhoods are built, the shopping centers up and running. Columbia, now more than 30 years old, is putting on its finishing touches, moving its money from creating to maintaining, and this year, bringing forth a capital spending plan that is the smallest in four years.

The $45 million budget proposal holds the line on assessment fees and contains only $4.8 million in capital projects, most of which would go to replace equipment and renovate facilities. The biggest chunk of the Open Space Management Division budget, for instance, is $927,000 to replace aging trucks, tractors and mowers.

"CA is entering a mature phase," said Columbia Council member S. Kenneth Puckett, of Dorsey's Search.

"If Columbia is to remain the success that it is, significant emphasis must be placed on keeping the facilities and amenities in the best possible condition," association President Deborah O. McCarty said during a recent State of Columbia speech to the Columbia Business Exchange.

The Columbia Association is the nonprofit homeowners group that maintains Columbia's open spaces and facilities and provides other services for about 85,000 residents. It operates 23 neighborhood pools, two golf courses, a horse center, ice rink and several tennis courts and indoor athletic clubs.

The proposed budget, which the Columbia Council is expected to vote on in late February, would continue the CA assessment rate of 73 cents per $100 of assessed value, and pool rates would stay the same.

Fees for other CA memberships and facilities would rise about 3 percent under the proposal.

New family memberships in the association's Package Plan Program, which grants access to pools and sports facilities, would rise from $621 to $639 a year for Columbia households, and from $1,278 to $1,314 for non-Columbia residents.

Fees at Hobbit's Glen Golf Club would go up by $1 to $5, while fees at Fairway Hills Golf Club would stay the same in an effort to cut the amount of play at Hobbit's Glen and beef it up at Fairway Hills.

With facility charges and assessment fees, the association estimates that it would collect $1.3 million more than it spends, creating an accumulated surplus of $3.3 million at the end of fiscal year 2001. But the surplus is lower than in some previous years, when the association had annual surpluses of $3 million to $4 million.

In her State of Columbia address last week, McCarty said Columbia is seeing "a flattening of revenues" as residential growth slows.

Residential development in Columbia, a planned community, is more than 90 percent complete. "We can't count on the ever-growing revenues that we've had for the past 30 years," Puckett said.

Is he worried that property values will fall as Columbia ages, reducing the association's assessment revenue?

"Sure, we are," he said. "That's kind of new, and we're afraid of it, but that's hardly a trend yet."

The next year of expenditures and revenue represents a continuation budget, a shift toward the austere. There are no new staff positions and few new initiatives.

Instead, the proposal focuses on repairing and replacing amenities in older villages, including installing new playgrounds, resurfacing outdoor basketball and tennis courts and repairing paved pathways.

One new initiative involves the issue of school equity, which the Columbia Council has taken up at the same time as a number of other groups in the county, exploring gaps between the county's older schools, mostly in Columbia, and its newer ones. As part of that effort, the association has included $100,000 in the budget proposal for public schools, although no specific plans for the money have been developed.

The Columbia Council is scheduled to conduct a work session on the proposed budget at its meeting tonight, and it will hold a public hearing on the budget at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Claret Hall in River Hill. Several more work sessions will be scheduled if necessary, until the council votes on the budget Feb. 23 or Feb. 24.

The budget proposal can be reviewed at association facilities and public libraries in Columbia. Copies can be obtained at village association offices and CA's administrative offices, at 10221 Wincopin Circle.