Fix problems or risk losing business, residents tell CA Expanded or new facilities sought at budget hearing

February 01, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Crowding and a shortage of parking at recreational facilities owned by the Columbia Association must be addressed soon or members might take their business elsewhere, residents told the Columbia Council last night.

"I work 50 minutes away from here and I'm on the verge of considering facilities elsewhere," said Skip Baylor of the Village of Owen Brown. "I can't park. I can't get racquetball courts. I can't shower. We are woefully overcrowded."

Like most of the 11 people who spoke at last night's hearing on the association's $38 million proposed budget, Mr. Baylor wants the homeowners' group to expand its facilities or build new ones.

"We need to sell the package in this town, and that package is facilities," said real estate agent Vince Campagna, a Harper's Choice resident who has lived in Columbia since 1971.

Mr. Campagna said the association has done a good job making its facilities and amenities first-rate. "Our hope is that you will give us the facilities we need for the next 10 years," he said.

Civic activist May Ruth Sidel urged the Columbia Council -- the CA's board of directors -- to continue providing social programs with its recreational offerings. She especially wants the council to continue to offer summer camp at greatly reduced prices to children of low-income families.

Ms. Sidel said the proposed budget allots too little for a pilot program called "dialogue night" that would bring parents and teen-agers together once a month. The $600 set aside in the budget for the program is "embarrassing" she said, adding that "it should be at least $2,000" and the program should have "paid, qualified facilitators" rather than volunteers.

Arie Eisner of Wilde Lake urged the council to take the money it would spend on a new facility in the Village of River Hill and use it to upgrade older ones "that are falling apart."

The way to deal with overcrowding, he said, is to charge nonresidents more. "A new River Hill facility would serve mostly non-Columbians," Mr. Eisner said.

Richard F. Kirchner of the Village of Hickory Ridge was the only resident who went against the tide. He said the CA is expanding when government and other service agencies are contracting. Too much of the association's proposed budget is going for wages, raises and salaries for new hires, he said.

A "legitimate argument" could be made that the CA needs to hire more people to serve expanded facilities, he said, but not when state and federal employees are facing layoffs and Howard County is looking at significant reductions in its work force.

According to figures Mr. Kirchner circulated, the CA would spend 10.8 percent more on wages in the coming year than in the current one. Overall, the association proposes spending $9.4 million on salaries, which he said is "the highest single item in the budget."

"It is a difficult task to deny hard-working employees the pay increases they expect and to say no to managers who ask for additional staff positions and overtime," Mr. Kirchner said.

The Columbia Council will hold another hearing at 8 p.m. tonight to hear how community groups and village boards feel about the proposed budget.

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