Council Gets Mixed Signals, More Or Less, On Columbia Spending

February 09, 1992|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff writer

The recession was the key argument for spending more -- and less -- in a public hearing last week on the Columbia Association's $29.9 million operating and $4.8 million capital budget proposals.

Spend less and tax less because residents can't afford more, said some who testified at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center Thursday night.

Spend more to revive projects such as a new golf course, tennis bubble and swimming pool while prices and interest rates are depressed, urged an equally vocal contingent.

Another segment of the 220 people attending favored maintaining or increasing association subsidies for social and arts programs.

The Columbia Council is scheduled to vote on the budget Feb. 26.

"At stake is our ability to live inColumbia altogether," said Larry Marple of Kings Contrivance.

Marple, a government contractor, told the council that government cutbacks have hurt his business. The cutbacks and increasing taxes have forced him to pull family members out of association pool and horse-center memberships as well as deny his son membership in a golf program, he said.

Like many speakers, he urged the council to phase in property value increases over three years in calculating the "lien," or quasi-property tax, charged on all Columbia property. He also urged a 5 percent cap on value increases.

State law requires county property taxes to be calculated using the phase-in, which is based on threevalues that appear on state assessments done every three years. The county also uses the 5 percent cap, and calculates it on 40 percent of property value rather than the 50 percent the association uses.

State law allows homeowners' associations to use a different formula,but opponents argue that the Columbia Association's lien should be treated as a government tax.

Marple also echoed complaints of otherspeakers that people who do not live or work in Columbia -- and thusare not members of the association -- can join its recreational programs and facilities at competitive rates.

"I'm tired of my lien supporting (non-members) and my family can't even participate," he said.

Many speakers asking for relief from the lien, charged at 75 cents per $100 of assessed value, were simultaneously applauded by supporters and jeered by those who came to urge the council to spend more on capital projects.

"Build Allview now!" was the message that DonDunn, president of the Howard County Golfers Association and chairman of the Hobbit's Glen Golf Committee brought from his membership.

"If not, turn the project over to private enterprise. End our agony," he said.

Dunn has been a persistent presence in association and county government circles, urging construction of a golf course to replace Allview Golf Course, closed in 1985 to make room for town houseand apartment developments. The association ran Allview and the overcrowded Hobbit's Glen Golf Course.

The budget includes $130,000 for obtaining permits for a new 18-hole regulation golf course on the same site, but not the $5.5 million needed for construction.

While it is an annual routine for village association boards to urge the council to spend more money, Kings Contrivance board Chairman George Pangburn said his board supported restraint, even for its own village subsidy.

He and Long Reach Manager Sarah Uphouse also urged relief from rising assessments, which some speakers claimed have climbed 30 percent or more.

Uphouse, speaking for her village board, also drew jeers from golfers and applause from others when she urged the council to remove the golf course planning money from the budget and re-evaluate the project.

She also echoed the views of several speakerswhen she urged that more money be budgeted for human services. Her board favors switching the association's $25,000 human services grant and $50,000 arts grant to the Columbia Foundation.

"It is the board's belief that more people will have need of basic intervention," she said.

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