Council to peer into future at retreat Life after deficit to be explored

October 22, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Columbia Council members plan to spend the weekend at the Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge discussing their visions for Columbia for 2000 and beyond.

The retreat, an annual event for the 10-member council, will be a "brainstorming" session on how the unincorporated city's quality of life might be improved once the Columbia Association pays off its $20 million budget deficit.

"Now we know we have a deficit to reduce and we have to pump a lot of money toward that," said council Chairwoman Karen A. Kuecker of Owen Brown village. "What if we had that money to spend? What would we do?"

Among the possibilities are providing more community services or recreational options, making facilities more widely available through rate reductions or reducing the annual property charge, she said.

The association, which charges property owners an annual property lien of 73 cents per $100 of assessed value to run Columbia's recreational facilities, community programs and maintain common grounds, has been operating at a deficit for years because it provided services and facilities before the population was large enough to support them.

The association's accumulated deficit -- the amount by which expenses exceed income -- peaked at $28.9 million in 1986 and since has been reduced to $20.4 million. The association has been borrowing money to compensate for operating at a deficit, which has contributed to the nonprofit corporation's current long-term $84 million debt. In 1988, the council set a goal of eliminating the deficit by 2000.

The retreat, from noon tomorrow to 12:30 p.m. Sunday, will cost about $5,000. Association staff members will make presentations, including economic forecasts and visions for the future.

"We hope to arrive at joint visions for Columbia and the Columbia Association," said council Vice Chairwoman Fran Wishnick of Oakland Mills village.

The council has gone on retreat at Belmont almost every year since 1980. Last year, the council met at Linden Hall in Dorsey's Search village in an effort to have a shorter retreat and save money, Ms. Wishnick said. But members found they needed more time than was allowed, she said.

Ms. Kuecker said the council hadn't decided whether a report would be produced to document the session but added that the council "should leave something behind for future councils so they could see what the pressing issues were."

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