THE ARCHITECTS of Columbia promised Howard County leaders during the planning of their town that it would not be a tax burden for surrounding residents. Rather, the town would pay for itself in terms of taxes and services, they assured.
Columbia has done that, and more.
In total, the 30-year-old community gives more than it takes from the county. It has built a healthy industrial environment, attracting business ventures that contribute mightily to the county's general fund.
It is critical for the county to have a strong assessable commercial property base. Businesses pay taxes on their properties, as residential property owners do, but require fewer of the costly governmental services.
This is where Columbia shines. Its commercial tax base is 35 percent of its total assessable base. That is nearly double the county's 19 percent ratio and better even than 25 percent benchmark that County Executive Charles I. Ecker has sought for Howard as a whole.
There have been failures, from the melancholy closing last year of the 29-year-old Pharmacy at Wilde Lake, the town's first druggist, to the biggest setback to hit these parts, General Electric Co.'s shutdown a decade ago of its sprawling east Columbia plant. Even that event merely stalled growth, it didn't stop it. More warehouses and high-tech firms followed after General Electric left.
Columbia's retail sector is brimming, too. Merchants in original village centers are concerned about the future, partly because of the development and expansion of competing power retail centers.
"Big box" stores may never provide the personal service of village center shops, but they meet consumer demands and create jobs. More jobs also will come with the arrival of upscale Nordstrom and Lord & Taylor stores at the Mall in Columbia.
Indeed, Columbia hasn't been a drain on Howard, as some feared when it sprouted from farmland between Baltimore and Washington. Its commercial success has been responsible for much of the county's economic good fortune.
Pub Date: 6/23/97