4% merit raise plan revived for Columbia Association employees

March 01, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

The Columbia Council voted last night to reinstate merit raise proposals averaging 4 percent for Columbia Association employees.

In doing so, the council reversed its vote of last Thursday to reduce the raises to 3 percent to match the rate of inflation and save at least $70,000.

Last night's vote -- 5-3, with one abstention -- was a straw vote to ascertain whether there was a consensus prior to tonight's scheduled adoption of the association's proposed $31.8 million operating budget and $5.8 million capital budget for 1994-'95.

Regardless of the straw vote, however, council members can propose amendments tonight.

Council Vice Chairwoman Fran Wishnick of Oakland Mills Village made last night's proposal to reinstate the 4 percent raises, with the provision that raises for 35 management positions be postponed pending the results of an independent study the council has commissioned.

"I spent at least one sleepless night, maybe one-and-a-half sleepless nights, thinking about this," Ms. Wishnick said.

She said she had voted with the majority in last Thursday's 7-3 vote, but reconsidered because the reduction would affect many employees who are paid less than managers.

The independent study will compare salaries for the association's managers with similar positions in government, nonprofit organizations and private industry. It is expected to be completed by late April.

The fiscal 1995 budget will take effect May 1.

The association, which charges property owners to manage Columbia's recreational facilities and community programs and to maintain open space, employs about 180 full-time workers and a seasonal part-time staff that ranges from 600 to about 1,000.

Councilwoman Evelyn A. Richardson of Dorsey's Search Village agreed that the 4 percent raises should be reinstated.

"It seems to me we made an arbitrary decision here," she said. "It was premature and inappropriate at the given time."

Councilman David Berson of River Hill Village disagreed, saying the association "probably spends too much money."

He proposed that association managers find $100,000 in spending reductions, if not in salaries, in other areas by searching for efficiencies.

"I think we could cut $100,000 and not see a reduction in services," Mr. Berson said, adding that it was important for the council to show that it could reduce spending.

Councilwoman Suzanne Waller, who opposed reducing the 4 percent salary increases, told other council members that the association is in a "relatively good financial position. We're not like IBM and have to restructure and we're not like the federal government.

"I think we can continue the way we are now."

The council also discussed several new rate proposals for association recreational facilities, including reduced rates for either nonpeak daytime hours or late-night hours and discounted pool membership rates for four pools with traditionally low attendance.

The association's Membership Services Division is expected to present projections tonight of the effects on memberships and revenues should the council adopt Package Plan rates reduced by 25 percent or 30 percent for nonpeak hours. The goal would be to reduce overcrowding during busy hours and attract new members who want to use facilities at lower rates during midday hours, 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. or weekend afternoons.

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