The Columbia Council's Financial Advisory Committee recommended last night against building a proposed $1.4 million recreational vehicle storage park, saying it's a risky venture that would serve too few residents.
The council, which directs the nonprofit Columbia Association (CA), has proposed buying 5 acres of land from the Rouse Co. for $1 million to develop the RV park. In exchange, Rouse would give CA the right to impose its annual levy on new commercial and residential properties, including the Snowden Square retail center.
"The future risks to CA in terms of both monetary and potential future liability . . do not seem warranted in light of the very few Columbia residents whose needs will be served by such an RV park," the committee of financial experts wrote in a report analyzing CA's proposed $33.4 million operating and $6 million capital budgets for 1995-1996.
The committee also urged the council to obtain an independent appraisal of the land, which is adjacent to two hazardous waste landfills being monitored by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The land is in the former General Electric manufacturing park off Snowden River Parkway.
The appraisal might help the council negotiate a lower price with Rouse if it goes forward with the deal, said committee member Karen S. Fireman.
In its first budget work session last night, the council decided to keep average merit raises for association employees at 4 percent.
Councilman Michael Rethman said he believes the 4 percent is higher than the rate of inflation and national employment cost indexes. He noted that a 1 percent reduction would save about $85,000. But he stopped short of proposing a reduction.
"I won't spend whatever little political currency I have if there's no support for this," he said. No other member proposed a reduction.
CA President Padraic M. Kennedy told the council that a 4 percent overall salary increase is a "prudent, reasonable figure," noting it is comparable to marketplace averages and the region's high cost of living.
CA imposes an annual levy on Columbia property owners to help pay for recreational facilities, community programs and parkland maintenance.
The financial committee also recommended that the council:
* Establish a process to evaluate all CA programs to see if any should be eliminated, based on their cost and the number of residents served.
* Set a policy for reducing CA's $90 million debt, with annual targets. The committee says the discipline is needed to achieve "meaningful tax or [recreational] rate reductions."
* Charge golfers more for greens fees, rather than creating a new, more expensive category of recreational membership to help cover costs for the new Fairway Hills Golf Course.
* Analyze demand for a possible new athletic facility in the developing River Hill village near Clarksville. The association has included $5,000 in the budget for planning and a feasibility study.
* Consider hiring a full- or part-time attorney to handle court cases involving violations of Columbia's property maintenance guidelines, now handled by outside attorneys. CA has allocated $93,000 for enforcement, a sixfold increase over three years ago.
* Delay a $500,000 irrigation system replacement for the Hobbit's Glen Golf Club and attempt to share costs for improving Symphony Woods park -- estimated at $600,000 over several years -- with Merriweather Post Pavilion operators. The concert stage is encompassed by the Town Center park.
A land-planning consultant presented plans for the Symphony Woods project at a public hearing sponsored by the council before the budget session, but only one resident attended.
Charles Bailey, a senior associate with LDR International Inc., said the plan has three main components -- creating a formal entrance, building a path looping the park and connecting "unique ecosystems," and linking the park to Town Center pathways and Lake Kittamaqundi.
"I think [Symphony Woods] will really become a destination," Mr. Bailey said. "The beauty of this piece of property is that you can do more or less. You can add features along the way as people discover it."
The council has included $114,000 next year to dredge a pond in the park, the project's first phase.