9% cut in CA's budget is proposed Columbia Association to vote on its plan in February or March

Deficit would end in 2000

Covered tennis courts, River Hill center are 2 biggest proposals

December 22, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

With little need for new construction, the Columbia Association (CA) is proposing a 9 percent drop in next year's budget, spending a total of $44.8 million on capital and operating expenses.

CA's current $49 million budget is its biggest -- largely because of the continuing construction of a $6 million health club in River Hill village and a $2.8 million miniature golf-batting cage facility in Harper's Choice village.

"Last year was an unusual year in our budget because we had so many big projects," said Cecilia Januszkiewicz, the Columbia Council member who represents Long Reach. "I think it's appropriate that after you bite off as much as we did last year, we take a breath" before beginning more construction.

The budget proposed Thursday is more modest: $38.3 million in operating expenses and $6.4 million in capital expenses. Most of the construction money would go toward routine maintenance and renovation of CA facilities.

The 10-member council will debate the budget for fiscal 1999 during the next several months. The final budget will be approved in late February or early March.

One aspect of the spending plan changes little: The fees that Columbia residents must pay to use recreation facilities would remain essentially the same.

The two most expensive capital proposals -- $471,000 to cover six tennis courts at Wilde Lake Tennis Club, long sought by Columbia's tennis enthusiasts, and $980,000 to build River Hill Village Community Center -- may spark debate among council members.

Those in favor of the covered tennis courts say CA's four indoor courts are not enough. Supporters of the community center say Columbia's 10th village deserves a large meeting space of the type available at other villages.

Critics of both projects worry about their cost.

"At first blush, [$980,000] seems like it might be too large of an amount for a community center," said Alex Hekimian, the council member from Oakland Mills. "We need a better understanding of how big it is and how it would be used."

But council member David Berson -- who represents River Hill -- says putting a community center in the last village is fair and sensible.

Community service projects "are not expected to make money," Berson said. "You don't want them to be black holes, but with a community center, you're serving your residents."

CA plans to study less expensive ways to build the community center.

In the past five years, CA has tried to reduce its deficit, which soared to $29 million in the mid-1980s from years of spending more than it collected. By mid-1999, CA expects its accumulated deficit to be $2.1 million.

According to the council's plan, the deficit would be paid off in 2000. Council members may then consider adding services, reducing fees for CA's facilities or lowering annual assessments -- which are about $740 a year for a typical house in Columbia.

CA would slightly increase fees for its athletic facilities.

The fee for a family to use the pools for an assessment payer would rise from $252 a year to $255. For a nonresident, family rates would increase from $504 to $525.

As part of the renovations at Long Reach, CA proposes spending $330,000 to renovate the exterior walls and entrance ways of the Art Center.

Elsewhere in the proposed budget, the CA wants to:

Install a $127,000 dehumidification system that would keep the Oakland Mills ice rink open all year.

Build $110,000 worth of basketball and tennis courts in Owen Brown.

Spend $175,000 for three open play areas in River Hill. The landscaped areas would provide recreation for older children.

Replace signs in Harper's Choice and Wilde Lake for $82,000.

Add a $100,000 computerized system at five villages to monitor covenant violations.

Buy $22,500 worth of Gateway 2000 computers.

Install permanent signs at Columbia's 23 outdoor pools.

Heat the flume tower at the Wilde Lake Swim Center.

Pub Date: 12/22/97

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