Cut in merit raises for CA staff backed

February 25, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

The Columbia Council supported reducing average merit raises for Columbia Association employees from 4 percent to 3 percent at a fiscal 1995 budget work session last night, but rejected proposals for stricter limits on personnel and supply costs.

The 10-member council took straw votes -- a prelude to next week's scheduled budget adoption -- on a number of proposed amendments, including adding $2,500 to help property owners maintain and repair their residences to comply with covenants, and reducing the $10.9 million allocated for personnel by $325,000, or 3.2 percent.

The council, which is the association's board of directors, plans to vote officially on amendments to the proposed $31.8 million operating and $5.8 million capital budgets next week. The budgets would take effect May 1.

The private, nonprofit association charges property owners an annual fee to manage Columbia's recreational facilities, community programs and open space lands. The proposed annual charge, or assessment, is 73 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

Councilwoman Norma Rose of Wilde Lake village proposed that personnel costs -- $10.1 million in the current budget -- be increased by 4.5 percent instead of 7.7 percent and that the $2.2 million allocated for supplies be cut by $100,000, or nearly 5 percent.

Those cost-saving proposals "would require some belt-tightening, but the belt wasn't tightened very stringently the last few years," she said. "The budget really does require some tightening."

Several council members said the proposal on personnel costs would be too restrictive and that the council didn't have the information necessary to determine whether it would be appropriate.

"Only [association staff members] who deal with it day to day would know," said Councilman David Berson of River Hill village.

The proposal was defeated 7-3, but the council later voted, again 7-3, to reduce the average merit raises for the association's roughly 180 full-time employees and 700 to 1,100 part-time workers. That cut would save about $100,000.

Ms. Rose said the budget for supplies includes "certain extravagances" such as the council's annual retreat at the Belmont conference center and other entertainment expenses and "discretionary items." Also, supplies might be purchased for less, she said.

Other council members said that proposal might also be too constraining, considering that the council has proposed adding some services. The proposal was defeated 7-3.

The council did vote to offset any additions to the proposed operating budget -- such as $10,000 to start a teen center on Columbia's west side -- by reducing association administrative costs, on the condition that no services be diminished.

The council also debated whether it should scrutinize more closely spending in Columbia's 10 villages, which are legal entities separate from the association.

"I can't support that. How they spend their money is their business," said Chairwoman Karen Kuecker of Owen Brown village.

"Their money is our money," responded Councilman Chuck Rees of Kings Contrivance village. "I don't think we're doing our job if we don't oversee how it's spent."

The association has proposed granting $2.25 million -- about 13 percent of the $17.7 million in assessment income -- to the villages, which form their own budgets.

Councilman Mike Rethman of Hickory Ridge village said the formula for determining the allocation to each village is "somewhat arbitrary" and "may be flawed."

He proposed reducing the allocation by 1 percent because the )) current proposed increase exceeds the rate of inflation.

"We've got to have discipline somewhere in this budget," Mr. Rethman said.

Council Vice Chairwoman Fran Wishnick argued that if the villages' increase is to be tied to inflation, so should the association's entire budget. The council didn't vote on Mr. Rethman's proposal.

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