A Matter of Fairness in Columbia

January 08, 1993

Though it continues to send mixed signals, the Columbia Council is at least starting to tackle some very difficult issues.

On the matter of how much non-Columbians will have to pay to partake of Columbia's vast array of recreational services, the council appears to be moving in a commendable direction.

In the proposed budget for 1993-1994, the Columbia Association staff has followed the dictates of the council and recommended a substantial increase in the rates that non-Columbians pay to join the association. The various fees for membership would rise between 8 percent and 18 percent for non-residents.

That would happen, of course, only if the council approves what it has already indicated to the staff that it wants to do. We see no reason to believe they would do otherwise.

We were somewhat dismayed that the council took a much different tack on a similar issue in deciding to bar new non-residents from seeking membership at the association's Hobbit's Glen Golf Course.

The stated purpose of that move was to begin addressing the problem of crowding at the golf course, the only one in Columbia. In reality, we can only conclude that it was a symbolic decision, underscoring the council's indecisiveness about building another fairway.

According to association staff, the decision will affect only an estimated 10 potential new golfers next year. Turning away such a small group hardly strikes us as a worthy change.

Increasing the membership rates for non-residents would seem a better way to accomplish the council's goals.

For too long, Columbia residents have paid not only a membership fee, but also what amounts to a property tax to enjoy the association's recreational services. They, in effect, have subsidized non-residents, who do not pay the association tax but can avail themselves of services at market rates.

The issue addressed by increasing non-resident membership fees is one of equity. It may alleviate crowding by turning away some non-residents, but it is preferable to barring non-residents altogether. By raising the non-resident fees, the council is promoting fairness and not furthering exclusivity in Columbia's recreation system.

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