Columbia panel delays capital budget vote Tally on blueprint is scheduled March 12

March 01, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Council put off voting last week on its 1999 capital budget after debating into the early morning hours moves that trim barely $55,000 out of its $38.3 million operating budget.

The council is expected to vote on the $6.3 million capital budget March 12. The two most expensive projects proposed in that budget are a $980,000 community center in River Hill village and a $450,000 tennis bubble at Wilde Lake Tennis Club.

The 10-member council, which governs the Columbia Association, spent 10 hours in two meetings Wednesday and Thursday nights discussing the the association's proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

"I'm glad we got through as much as we did, but I certainly wasn't excited about how long it took," said Joseph Merke, the council chairman, who represents Town Center.

Wanda Hurt, a council member from Owen Brown, said, "It is ridiculous how much time we took on just the operating budget. It was asking stupid questions."

The bulk of Thursday night's discussion focused on possibly cutting grants the group makes to such nonprofit organizations as the Columbia Foundation and the Columbia Arts Council. After two hours of debate, the council didn't cut any of the $154,000.

One of the most contentious points was a proposed $16,000 increase in Columbia's Sister City student exchange program with Tres Cantos, Spain, and Cergy Pontoise, France, to pay for a full-time employee.

At public meetings this year, dozens of students who have participated in the program told the council of their experiences abroad and begged the program's longtime critic, Norma Rose of Wilde Lake, to spare the program from budget cuts. The increase was approved.

Among the $55,000 worth of cuts in the proposed operating budget was the $9,000 it costs to tape the council's public budget hearings and vote. The consensus of board members was that they were too embarrassed to have the tape shown on county cable TV.

"It's money we can save Columbia's residents and [having cameras] only inflates debate," said Cecilia Januszkiewicz, a council member from Long Reach.

Merke said, "This proceeding ended up being so long that to get two hours that would be suitable to show on TV would take a heck of a lot of editing."

Pub Date: 3/01/98

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