Columbia elections shape up as contest on cutting local government costs

April 05, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

With city elections less than three weeks away, only three of eight races for Columbia Council seats are being contested.

Five members are running unopposed April 24, and two are not up for election until next year, assuring that at least seven current members will continue on the 10-member board.

But candidates in two of those races are strong advocates of cutting Columbia Association expenses, reducing the association assessment on property owners and other financial burdens on residents, and increasing the residents' influence on policy decisions.

The nonprofit Columbia Association operates the unincorporated city's recreational facilities and social programs and maintains open space. The council sets policy and the annual budget for the association.

Elections for seats on village boards in all of Columbia's 10 villages also are scheduled for April 24.

Questions about what projects the Columbia Association should undertake and how it spends its $30 million budget have divided the council and prompted scrutiny by a citizens watchdog group in recent years. The conflict has been evident in budget debates over the past year, in which a $5.2 million, 18-hole golf course project won narrow approval.

Debate also has centered on whether Columbia residents, who pay annual property liens of 73 cents per $100 of assessed value, are getting enough for their money compared with nonresidents, who pay for memberships at Columbia pools, health clubs and other facilities.

The five council members running unopposed are Norma L. Rose of Wilde Lake, Suzanne S. Waller of Town Center, David Berson of River Hill, Evelyn A. Richardson of Dorsey's Search and Fran Wishnick of Oakland Mills.

Two other council members -- Karen A. Kuecker of Owen Brown and Chairman John M. Hansen of Harper's Choice -- are entering the second year of two-year terms.

Incumbent Charles Ahalt of Hickory Ridge, who advocates a "dramatic" reduction in Columbia Association operating costs, is being challenged by Mike Rethman and Mark Riso. Mr. Rethman advocates making the association more efficient and conducting independent reviews of its operations. Mr. Riso stresses a commitment to public service.

Kings Contrivance council representative Charles Acquard will not seek re-election, setting up a race between Paul Amico and Chuck Rees. Mr. Amico supports investing in community facilities that will make a profit, thereby reducing the need for subsidies, which most city pools receive.

Mr. Rees advocates cutting Columbia's property lien. An opponent of the controversial Fairway Hills golf course, he hopes to find ways to refinance Columbia's debt at municipal rates and make annual property liens tax-deductible. Columbia, being unincorporated, so far has been denied such advantages in financing.

In Long Reach, incumbent Gail Bailey, who supports reducing rates at Columbia facilities for residents and limiting access for nonresidents, is being challenged by Roy T. Lyons, who says he is disturbed by a tendency toward "negativism and contention" and wants to preserve "neighborly civility."

River Hill will have its first election and will send its first voting member to the council. Mr. Berson has attended council meetings for the last seven months as a nonvoting member.

Of the 10 village board elections, only three will be contested -- Hickory Ridge, Kings Contrivance and Harper's Choice. In six others, the number of open seats matches the number of candidates.

In the Wilde Lake election, four candidates are running for five seats, which means the newly elected board will have to appoint a fifth member. Of the 38 candidates running for village board seats, 23 are incumbents.

Village boards act as intermediaries between residents and the Columbia Council and county government, oversee village office operations and make decisions on architectural issues.

Polling places in Owen Brown, Oakland Mills and Harper's Choice will be open shorter hours on April 23 and 24.

In Kings Contrivance and River Hill, any resident 18 or older may vote. In the other eight villages, only one person per household is eligible.

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