Council has doubts about budget proposals

January 05, 1996|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,SUN STAFF

Columbia Council members last night questioned the fiscal soundness of some proposals in the town's operating and capital spending plans for next year.

Two weeks ago, the Columbia Association presented its proposed $37.9 million operating budget and $3.7 million proposed capital budget to the council.

Last night, the council had its first chance to discuss the spending plans during its budget work session at the Columbia Association Building in Town Center.

David Baron, a councilman representing River Hill, said money probably could be saved if the ColumBus transportation service was transferred to the county.

"It still makes transportation sense to have this moved as a county function," he said. ColumBus is scheduled to receive $104,000.

George Pangburn, a councilman representing Kings Contrivance village, asked whether Oakland, a community center that residents rent for special events, was worth funding. "Is it ever going to make money?" he asked.

"I don't think it'll ever break even," said Padraic M. Kennedy, the association's president.

Hickory Ridge Councilman Mike Rethman asked about hiring a public relations firm to promote Columbia, which has more than 80,000 residents.

As he looked at the $10,000 allotted to the Economic Development Authority to help attract businesses to the county and retain them, he said, "I'd also like to see us engage or subsidize promoting Columbia as a good place to live."

Pam Mack, an association official, said she, too, was interested in promoting Columbia. Last year, she talked to a local television station that was interested in doing 30-second spots and was told that the cost would be about $36,000, she said.

"I think the concept is a smart one and would be easy to sell," said Gary Glisan, councilman for the Village of Oakland Mills.

Councilwoman Hope Sachwald, who represents Harper's Choice village, wanted to know whether her village could be considered for an ice rink and family fun center she dubbed "Sports Park."

"I think it's catchy," said Rob Goldman, director of membership services for the association.

Ms. Sachwald said the village center has land set aside for a school that probably won't be built. "We need people moving around our village," she said. "We've talked about the revitalization of Wilde Lake. I think this is step two and we can revitalize Harper's Choice."

Although no private citizens attended last night's meeting, Alex Hekemian, president of the Alliance for a Better Columbia, said his group will meet Monday to discuss the proposed budgets. "I think we'll have a lot to say about this budget," he said.

In the past, Mr. Hekemian and others have criticized the association's budget process, saying it doesn't allow for public input.

On Dec. 21, the 10-member Columbia Council -- the association's elected board of directors -- received the proposed $37.9 million operating budget, an increase of 6.14 percent, or $2.2 million, over the current budget.

If approved Feb. 28, when the council plans to vote, the nonprofit association's fiscal 1997 operating budget will fund three new summer camps, an expanded Kidsports program and outdoor pool supplies.

The proposed capital budget would pay for 10 new tot lots, a new recreational facility in River Hill village and an ice rink and family fun center.

The Columbia Council will hold public budget hearings Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.

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