After 90 minutes of spirited debate and testimony last night the Columbia Council could not come to a firm decision on whether to build an 18-hole or a nine-hole golf course.
Instead, the nine-member council voted 6-3 to have the Columbia Association, which manages Columbia's recreational facilities and cultural programs, assess the effect on the 1993 budget of building either course.
Building the larger course would cost $5.5 million, the smaller would cost about $3.8 million.
The council will decide on the golf course project during budget deliberations. It is slated to receive a proposed 1993 budget on Dec. 22.
Before voting on the budget proposal offered by council member Karen Kuecker, the council defeated a motion by council member Evelyn Richardson to build an 18-hole course on a 182-acre tract in Columbia's Village of Town Center.
Ms. Richardson's proposal would have allowed only Columbia residents and others who paid the town an annual property assessment to buy golf course memberships.
The council voted 5-4 to defeat Ms. Richardson's proposal, with council members Suzanne Waller, Charles Acquard, John Hansen and Ms. Richardson voting for it.
Ms. Kuecker, who earlier said she was undecided on the issue, told the council that she would vote against the 18-hole course because her village board opposed it for fiscal reasons.
Although a majority of the 40 residents who testified at the meeting clearly favored the 18-hole course, several council members expressed deep reservations about the soundness of spending $5.5 million to build it.
"I disagree that this is a no-brainer decision," said council member Gail Bailey. She argued that studies showing a demand for the 18-hole course may be skewed by potential rather than actual demand. If the number of rounds played annually on the course turned out to be lower than Columbia Association projections, it would effect the profitability of the course and the association, she contended.
Council member Norma Rose, despite catcalls from some in the audience, also asked if it was wise to build the bigger course, noting the association's past inaccuracies about usage projections for some facilities.
Ms. Richardson defended the 18-hole project.
"We have spent almost three-quarters of a million dollars on studies and reports on this proposal," she said. "It's unconscionable to waste that money. The Columbia Association has a superb track record with their projections. This course will make money."
In arguing for the smaller course, council member Fran Wishnick said a nine-hole course would give golfers added space to play the game and would not result in a large financial investment.
The council did not vote on building a nine-hole course. According to recent estimates by the association, if an 18-hole course were opened in 1996, it would begin to turn a profit in its third year of operation -- $49,000 that year. Profits would increase to $289,000 by 2004.