Columbia Group Seeks Brainstormers On Future Government

February 12, 1992|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff writer

A group of Columbia residents laid plans Monday night to recruit about 250 people to generate ideas for future governance of the community.

Organized by the Columbia Forum, the group plans to convene focus groups to expand on the results of a survey released last month.

The survey showed that while 64 percent of Columbia residents seeno need for an overhaul of government now, 65 percent would support future changes.

The three-hour meetings will be scheduled after members are recruited, probably through newspaper notices, cable television and mailings.

The ideas generated by the groups could be discussed in town meetings and tested in a non-binding referendum.

Panel members said they hoped group members also would stimulate discussion in the larger community.

Some panel members expressed doubts that Columbia residents who don't turn out for village elections or apply for empty village board seats will participate in the groups.

The town is unincorporated, and most governmental services such as police and fire protection are provided by the county. They are paid for by county property taxes.

The Columbia Association, which owns and maintains more than 2,000 acres of open space and runs recreational facilities and social programs, is financed by a quasi-property taxknown as the "lien," or "assessment" on all Columbia property. Although it resembles a property tax, it is not deductible from federal taxes.

An elected executive and five-member council elected from equally populated council districts run county government.

Representatives representing vastly different populations in Columbia's nine villages govern the association. In addition, each village has its own association and governing board.

One of the questions to be considered by the focus groups will be whether Columbia Association should be converted to a one-person, one-vote system.

The panel included a sampling of city residents, including county council members, village board and Columbia council members, members of other interest groups and unaffiliated residents.

Deciding who should be named to thefocus groups was no easier than defining Columbia itself.

"To what extent do we want to include people who are not in it?" asked lawyer Alan M. Schwartz, who heads the forum's Governance Initiative Work Group.

Gloria Greene, a member of the Kings Contrivance village board, questioned whether residents of "outparcels," or those within Columbia ZIP codes who do not pay the association lien, should be brought into the process.

Scattered throughout the town, outparcels were not included in the Rouse Co.'s land purchases for Columbia in the 1960s.

They are not subject to the covenants that require propertyowners to pay the association and maintain uniform architectural standards.

"Even the word 'outparcel' has connotations that we may want to look at in terms of dealing with them," suggested David Tucker of Wilde Lake.

Panel members decided to include outparcel residents because they may be asked to be a part of a newly governed Columbia.

Other groups would include current elected officials, business leaders, older and younger residents, singles and leaders of non-profit groups.

This is not the first time Columbia's governance has been debated. In the late 1970s, residents got together and decided Columbia needed a special taxing district.

The county's legislative delegation introduced legislation that would have created such a district, but it failed in committee.

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