For the first time in its 26-year history, Columbia Council members will lower the annual charge that property owners pay to the ColumbiaAssociation -- but only a little.
All nine council members said last week they will vote to reduce the 75 cents per $100 of assessed property value, known as the "lien," by at least 2 cents.
Council member Gail Bailey of Long Reach village said it was the first time she had seen such support for a cut since she ran for her office five years ago.
"In intervening years that I've been on thecouncil, there has been no support from other council members to lower the assessments -- until this year," she said.
But that changedafter Feb. 5, when a large contingent of Columbia residents showed up to ask for relief from the rising annual charge. Although the charge is capped at 75 cents, property values set by state assessors steadily have increased.
The council will vote on the cut as part of the association's proposed $29.9 million operating and $4.8 million capital budget reduction this week. The vote is scheduled for Wednesday,but could be delayed until Thursday if council members need a secondnight.
A 2-cent cut would mean a $730 charge instead of $750 for the owner of a home assessed at $200,000.
The cut hardly will satisfy residents, who first must be convinced that the council is serious about further cuts, said Alex Hekimian, president of the Alliance for a Better Columbia.
"How could they be credible if they keep heaping on massive amounts of debt such as the $5-6 million needed to build that golf course," he said. Adding $5.5 million to the budget to build a replacement for the old Allview Golf Course was advocated by another large group at the budget hearing.
Several council memberssaid that while the amount of the cut is insignificant, it is intended to signal the council's willingness to consider further reductions.
"That's the understanding -- that this is part of a long-term process to see how we can deal with the rising assessments, vis-a-vis the demands for service," said Fran Wishnick of Oakland Mills village.
A Feb. 10 memo to council members from association President Padriac Kennedy recommended the 2-cent cut, along with about $520,000 in operating budget cuts and $1.2 million in capital budget cuts. They included a first-quarter freeze on staff salaries, closing the indoor Swim Center for the summer, and putting off construction of the Hickory Ridge and Kings Contrivance pathway projects.
At a budget work session Wednesday, council member John Hansen of Harper's Choice proposed cutting an additional $1.2 million, mainly by delaying the Town Center lakefront project, tot lot renovations and most pathway replacements. Hansen said the cuts should allow a 3- or 4-cent reduction instead of the 2-cent cut recommended by Kennedy.
Hansen and three other council members also said they favored going ahead with buildinga $5.5 million golf course between U.S. Route 29 and Routes 108 and 175, the former site of Allview Golf Course.
Proponents of building the golf course in fiscal year 1993, which begins May 1, were as vocal as those seeking relief from the association's annual property charge.
Although the two groups jeered at each others' speakers during the hearing, council member James Loesch of Hickory Ridge said thetwo issues could be compatible.
"I personally believe that in fact that project would be profitable, long term," he said. The council should take advantage of low construction bids and low interest rateswhile they last, Loesch said.
It is also possible, said council member Evelyn Richardson of Dorsey's Search, that the estimated first-year interest on the $5.5 million in construction bonds might come out of the fiscal 1993 budget.
The proposed $4.8 million capital budget includes $130,000 for obtaining permits for a new 18-hole regulation golf course, but no construction money.
There are four votes for adding construction to the budget, and three against. Chairman Charles Acquard of Kings Contrivance said he was undecided, and Fran Wishnick of Oakland Mills said she is leaning against adding the money for fiscal year 1993.