Should Columbia's village board members receive compensation for their volunteer service to their neighborhoods?
This issue, which has been debated off and on for years, was raised again recently when Donna L. Rice, the chair of the Town Center village board, sent letters to village board members -- who are volunteers -- proposing giving them compensation packages.
The 10 members of the Columbia Council -- the Columbia Association's board of directors -- receive free memberships to athletic facilities in the planned community. But the bylaws in each village specify no compensation for service on village boards.
"I thought this was an issue that needed to be looked at again," said Rice, who sent the letters in the first week of this month. "I really strongly feel that if we want to attract quality people and have a diverse board, we need to offer something in exchange."
In the letter, Rice suggested that village board members get compensation identical to that received by the Columbia Council. Council members get "Package Plan" recreational facility membership, which includes access to CA athletic facilities, pools, ice rinks and golf clubs. For families, the full package can cost as much as $1,020 a year.
Of the 10 village boards in Columbia, six have yet to respond to Rice's letter, village managers said yesterday. Four have said they do not support the idea.
In Hickory Ridge, the only village that offers some compensation, board members get credit toward admission to Columbia's athletic facilities, said Jane Parrish, village manager. In the arrangement, which has been in place for about five years, board members get $15 for each meeting they attend, she said.
"We call it a reimbursement, not a compensation," Parrish said. "We have it to encourage people to stay on the board and to use CA facilities."
Village boards can vote to compensate themselves -- or the next elected board -- by allocating a portion of village funds each year for compensation, said Pam Mack of the CA. Or the boards can ask the Columbia Council to approve extra funds for this purpose and include the request as part of the annual village allocations, she said.
But opposition has been vocal in some villages. Some wonder if approving compensation for some village officials would raise the same issue for the hundreds of other volunteers in Columbia.
"I have a lot of volunteers and some villages have more than 100 people who put in as much or more time as the board," said Anne Darrin, village manager in Dorsey's Search. "Where is my free perk?"
Others have pointed to the ideals of Columbia founder James W. Rouse, who said the villages should be run by volunteers.
But Rice said that the times have changed and it is no longer economically feasible to expect residents to volunteer for nothing. In effect, she said, the current setup caters to the select few who have the financial ability to give their time for free.
"I think it's elitist to assume people have all this extra volunteer time to make our lives better in Columbia," Rice said. "This is just not the case anymore.
"There are a lot of families with dual incomes and people just don't have the time," she said.
CA's various package plans provide admission to Columbia's health clubs, the Supreme Sports Club and the Columbia Athletic Club and other sports facilities in the planned community. Fees for plans vary based on the number of people included, whether a resident lives in Columbia and pays town liens, and for which facilities residents want access.
So far, the villages of Harper's Choice, Kings Contrivance, Dorsey's Search and Wilde Lake have sent letters to Rice opposing compensation packages.
In Long Reach, Hickory Ridge, River Hill, Oakland Mills, Owen Brown and Town Center, the village boards have not yet discussed the issue, village managers and board members said.
Pub Date: 6/24/97