Columbia Council ponders whether to maintain 80-acre horse center

No decision is made

facility has lost money since CA took over in 1996

April 09, 1999|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

In the next to last meeting of the current councilmanic session, the Columbia Council took up last night but did not resolve a familiar issue: whether to continue funding the Columbia Horse Center, which loses money every year and is used by only a fraction of residents.

With the facility's fate at stake, more than a dozen residents -- some of whom ride horses and some of whom don't -- spoke before the 10-member council in support of the center.

"It is the only facility in this area that meets the needs that I have for my horse," said Elizabeth Richards, who moved to Columbia because of the horse center. Richards has competed in riding competitions and shows overseas.

Matthew Plantz, a participant in the center's therapeutic riding program for the disabled, told the council he has been riding horses for 12 years, and is training for the state's Special Olympics.

"If it wasn't for the horse center, I wouldn't have this opportunity," he said.

The horse center has long been on the hit list of the council's fiscal hawks, who say that not enough residents use it and that it's too costly to operate.

The 80-acre center hasn't made a profit since the Columbia Association took it over in 1996, and it isn't projected to make one in the next 10 years. In the fiscal year that begins May 1, the center is expected to lose $90,000 -- after finishing about $108,000 in the red this year.

"It's a troubling issue," said Alex Hekimian, the Columbia Council representative from Oakland Mills.

Other council members expressed concern that more residents aren't using it.

Of the 35,000 estimated visits the Horse Center had during fiscal year 1999, fewer than half were by people living in Columbia.

The facility, which is on Gorman Road on the outskirts of Columbia, has two indoor rings, two outdoor rings and two barns for boarding horses.

It offers lessons, camps, pony rides, riding programs for the disabled and several horse shows each year.

After two hours of testimony and discussion, the council voted to release $30,000 in impounded capital budget funds for the purchase of six horses.

The council has yet to decide the ultimate fate of the center.

Members asked CA staff to present at the next meeting a long-term plan to increase revenue, cut costs and increase use of the center.

Pub Date: 4/09/99

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