Association seeks more county funds CA says council relies on community to provide services

'Very few extra dollars'

Officials say group should plan to request 'real basic stuff'

November 18, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Association -- moving to take a more aggressive role in Howard County politics -- is seeking more county financial support for such services and facilities in the planned community as roadside mowing, lake repairs, graffiti removal and new ball fields.

But the large homeowners association, known as CA, will have to get in line with all the other county interests -- namely schools, roads and police.

"There are very few extra dollars," said Darrel E. Drown, chairman of the Howard County Council. "They're going to have to go for real basic stuff."

Hearings for next year's budget are scheduled to begin next month.

With the county operating budget next fiscal year expected to top $336 million, CA officials say a larger piece should be spent in Columbia.

About 84,000 people live in Columbia and 141,000 in the rest of the county.

As many as nine of CA's 10 board members are expected to attend the council's opening budget hearing Dec. 3, a CA presence not seen for at least six years, according to county and CA officials.

"We're representing a voice of more than 80,000 people in the county," said CA board member David Berson of River Hill.

Berson and other board members, who decided on the move at a meeting last week, say they are worried that county officials short-change Columbia because of the planned community's perceived wealth.

Joe Merke, who represents Town Center on the board, said: "Basically, what everyone feels is they [the county] depend too much on us" to deliver services in Columbia.

But Drown, who represents Ellicott City on the County Council, said residents from other areas in the county make similar arguments for more services.

"It's amazing," Drown said. "You talk to people in Ellicott City and they say, 'All you care about is Columbia.' "

In the budget hearings, CA officials are expected to pursue at least eight programs with the county. Among them:

Graffiti removal and vandalism repair. CA officials say damage is allowed to linger and become eyesores. "The county needs to do a much better job in graffiti removal from its properties," said CA President Padraic M. Kennedy.

But Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker said the county removes graffiti as quickly as it can.

More roadside mowing. CA board Chairman Mike Rethman of Hickory Ridge said this also creates an image problem. "It sends a message, "Does anyone care?' " Rethman said.

CA mows the median strips of county roads in Columbia 16 times a year but is only reimbursed by the county for six, according to CA. Also, in some county-owned areas within Columbia, the county has stopped mowing altogether, CA said.

But for Drown, it makes environmental and economic sense to let some open-space areas simply grow naturally.

Erosion repair. CA maintains that much of the sediment clogging Wilde Lake is from runoff from the Beaverbrook neighborhood -- which is an "outparcel," an area near but not within Columbia.

CA will ask the county to repair the lake. Ecker said only that he would consider doing so.

Streetlight monitoring. When streetlights go out, it is the responsibility of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. to turn them back on, according to CA and county officials.

But CA says that Columbia drivers should not be expected to report every streetlight that is out. "Perhaps," Kennedy said, "a system could be developed where the police could help with the reporting of outages."

But Ecker said police are often too busy on patrol to report streetlights that are out.

More ball fields, particularly at Columbia schools. Ecker acknowledged there may be room in his budget for more ball fields.

Columbia officials also have discussed asking the county for street sweeping. Kennedy said last week that Howard and Anne Arundel are the only two counties in the metropolitan Baltimore area that do not sweep streets.

But Ecker and Drown said the county started sweeping streets this summer -- on a twice-a-year schedule. "And we're not going to increase it," Ecker said.

Pub Date: 11/18/96

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