Columbians to get 1st look at budget

December 30, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Columbia residents will have their first chance to examine the 1994-95 Columbia Association budget tonight, when the staff presents the proposed $31.8 million spending plan to the Columbia Council.

Several council members said yesterday that the proposal contains few substantial changes in spending or new services, compared with the current budget.

But the plan is unlikely to please a citizens advocacy group which is seeking a reduction in spending and in the annual property charge on residents.

The 8 p.m. meeting at the Columbia Association Building begins a process due to culminate in a council vote Feb. 28 or March 1. Hearings are scheduled for Jan. 25 and 27 at Kahler Hall in Harper's Choice village.

The association's budget, which pays for recreation facilities, community programs and maintenance of parks and other open spaces, takes effect May 1.

The proposal represents a 3.9 percent increase in spending over the current year's $30.6 million operating budget. The annual property charge rate, or assessment, would remain at 73 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

"It's a fairly unexciting budget," said Councilman David Berson, noting as an exception $2.1 million for new pools in River Hill and the Kendall section of Long Reach. "If people are looking for something new, I think they'll be disappointed."

But Columbia resident Alex Hekimian argues that the association should be able to provide services still more cheaply and efficiently.

"What residents will be looking for is a more frugal Columbia Association," said Mr. Hekimian, president of Alliance for a Better Columbia (ABC), a citizens advocacy group. "The bulk of Columbia residents are tired of being overcharged for what little they personally get from CA."

Neil Noble, a member of the Oakland Mills village Resident Architectural Committee, echoed Mr. Hekimian's sentiment.

"I think the assessment is too high, and services are too little," said Mr. Noble, another ABC member. "What do I get for it? I don't see anything tangible."

Under the spending plan, the annual charge for a $170,000 home, typical for Columbia, would be $620. Additional fees must be paid for recreational facility memberships and other programs.

Councilman Roy T. Lyons of Long Reach conceded that it is "very difficult to comprehend what we really get for our buck in Columbia." However, he added that he believes residents get "quite a bit."

"My feeling is, believe it or not, there's a great deal of satisfaction with what residents get for their buck," Mr. Lyons said. "If not, you'd see more of them stepping forward and complaining."

He said the annual payments cover the amenities available for all Columbia residents, and that those who buy property in Columbia implicitly pledge their support to the association.

Mr. Berson said he hasn't seen evidence indicating that residents are charged too much compared with what they receive.

In preparing the budget proposal, the council refused even to consider a cut in the assessment rate, though Mr. Berson and two other members had been willing to study it as an incentive for the association to be more efficient.

Mr. Hekimian also suggested the association should trim spending, as local governments and corporations have done recently, and "learn to give more for less."

In particular, he said administrative expenses and the $1.1 million allocation for marketing should be reduced.

Compared with the fiscal year 1990 budget, the proposed fiscal 1995 budget represents increases of 46.3 percent in income, 43.7 percent in expenses and 32.7 percent in assessment revenue.

But Mr. Berson said the association is "not in the same boat" as corporations that are motivated by profits, or governments whose revenues have declined. The association's financial ratings actually have gone up during the recession, he said.

"Just to cut the budget would ignore the economic strength that is here. I think ABC is dead wrong on that," Mr. Berson said.

BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS

Total Income: $33.8 million

* From Property Assessment: $17.1 million

* From Facility Memberships: $8.5 million

Total Expenses: $31.8 million

* Personnel Costs, including 4 percent average merit raises: $10.9 million

* Interest Expense: $8.8 million

* Village Association Grants: $2.25 million

Deficit Reduction: $2 million

Assessment Rate: 73 cents per $100 assessed property value (assessment is based on 50 percent of full market value)

Annual Fee per $100,000 of value: $365.

Capital Projects: Total Budget: $5.8 million

* River Hill pool and meeting room: $1.15 million

* Kendall Ridge pool: $965,000

* Replacements/Resurfacing/ Repairs: $774,000

* CA Maintenance Facility improvements: $690,000

* Supreme Sports Club: $263,000

* Ice Rink: $240,500

* Land Maintenance Equipment: $214,650

* Pathways: $199,500

* Swim Center: $188,000

* Hobbit's Glen Golf Course: $186,500

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