The Columbia Association is a bit like TV's "Energizer Bunny." No matter how many obstacles are thrown in its path, it just seems to keep going and going and going.
This is a pattern that will be tested again as the Columbia Council, which directs the non-profit association, considers the organization's proposed $33.4 million budget for fiscal 1996. The association oversees recreation facilities and open space in Columbia. A panel of independent financial experts has warned the council about a host of potential problems should it proceed with the budget as proposed by the association's staff.
But with a little more than a week left before the council is scheduled to vote on next year's budget, there may be little time to reverse course. A similar situation developed last year, when the council approved a budget with no major changes after concluding that it had simply run out of time.
Thus, the Columbia Association manages to roll on despite a heightened level of concern about how it spends its collections from Columbia residents.
The council's Financial Advisory Committee, made up of four outside consultants, raised a number of red flags about the budget. Among them were questions about a controversial proposal for the association to buy five acres of industrial land from the Rouse Co. for $1 million to convert it to a recreational vehicle storage park. In exchange for buying the land, the Rouse Co. would give the association the right to impose its annual levy on two properties, including the successful Snowden Square retail center.
The committee questioned whether enough demand existed for the RV park in Columbia, and recommended an appraisal of the Rouse property to determine whether the association was getting a good price. Those are valid -- in fact, necessary -- issues to raise. They ought to be addressed before the association is allowed to proceed with this deal.
The committee also recommended that the council establish a process to evaluate association programs to see if any should be eliminated, and set a policy for reducing the organization's $90 million debt. Whether the council ignores its own advisers or takes up the business of providing oversight to the association is yet to be seen. Certainly history suggests this rabbit doesn't slow easily.