Columbia Council adopts a $38.1 million operating budget

March 02, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

The Columbia Council adopted a $31.8 million Columbia Association operating budget last night, voting down several proposals to trim spending and backing away from an agreement calling for cuts in administrative costs to offset added expenditures.

The budget, approved by an 8-2 vote, exceeded by $30,000 the spending plan prepared and submitted in December by association managers.

The council also adopted by a 9-1 vote a $5.8 million capital budget -- $41,500 less than proposed by the association -- and kept the property assessment rate at 73 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Councilwoman Norma Rose of Wilde Lake village voted against the operating budget because she said more cuts should have been ordered, especially in "discretionary funds."

Councilman Chuck Rees of Kings Contrivance village also voted against the spending plan because "it wasn't really our budget until the last one-and-a-half weeks" when the council began work sessions. Mr. Rees also said the council must set spending parameters in the future "so the budget is something other than the sum of all wish lists."

The council is the board of directors for the nonprofit association. It sets the assessment rate -- an annual fee charged Columbia property owners to raise money to manage the unincorporated city's recreational facilities, community programs and open space.

Three council members were unsuccessful in proposals to trim the budget. Those included:

* Cutting average merit raises for association employees from 4 percent to 3 percent to match the rate of inflation and save about $70,000. In a straw vote last week, a council majority supported the proposal. But several members later reversed their positions, saying the council should wait for results of a consultant's study comparing association salaries to similar positions in the general work force.

* Reducing from 4 percent to 3 percent the increase in a $1.1 million grant to Columbia's 10 villages to match the rate of inflation.

* Trimming the $2.2 million budget for supplies by $74,000.

* Allowing association managers to determine the increase for staff salaries, provided that any increase beyond 4 percent be offset by other reductions and even further by a $40,000 cut in supplies.

The council also voted last night not to follow a guideline requiring the association to offset any additions to the budget by reducing administrative costs. A council majority had supported that agreement at a work session last week.

The council adhered to the guideline when it approved $30,500 in additional services, including $18,000 to help subsidize summer camp costs for lower-income children, $10,000 to start a new teen-ager's activity center on Columbia's west side and $2,500 to help residents comply with property covenants.

But the council balked when it had to trim administrative costs even more to offset a $20,000 grant to help establish a performing arts center at Wilde Lake High School. Another $10,000 was added to pay rent for office space for recreation staff.

Council Chairwoman Karen A. Kuecker of Owen Brown village said she felt "uncomfortable" that the association could absorb an additional $20,000 cut in the budget. Councilwoman Suzanne Waller of Town Center agreed, saying she's convinced the association staff presents a "lean budget."

But Councilman David Berson argued that there's "wiggle room" in virtually any budget and that the added spending amounted to less than one-half of 1 percent of operating expenses, excluding debt service.

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