Columbia Council abandons funding boost for schools

Panel deadlocks on covenant enforcement

February 06, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Council has voted to remove the $100,000 designated in the city's proposed budget to help solve academic and image problems at some older schools.

Cecilia Januszkiewicz, the council member from Long Reach who proposed including the one-time expenditure in the Columbia Association's preliminary budget, recommended taking out the funds at a work session Thursday night, saying it would be too difficult for the council to agree on how to administer them.

Several villages had strongly opposed the measure. Critics said Columbia residents pay county taxes to support the schools and that using CA funds -- which come in part from fees levied on homeowners -- would amount to a kind of "double taxation."

On the issue of covenant enforcement, eight of 10 council members voted to include $70,000 in the proposed fiscal year 2001 budget for an associate general counsel. That person would help CA's lone attorney, Shelby A. Tucker King, prosecute the backlog of covenant cases and provide other legal support.

The council deadlocked, 5-5, on a request for $35,000 to launch a pilot inspection program in three of Columbia's older villages: Harper's Choice, Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake. The money would pay for three part-time covenant advisers who would inspect properties more aggressively.

Vince Marando, the council representative from Wilde Lake, supported the expenditure.

Asked why the villages couldn't fund the project themselves from their annual CA allocation, he said, "I think these three villages are doing a service. They're breaking a path for this community."

Adam Rich, who represents River Hill, expressed concern about the precedent such an inspection program might set. He said the program's basic premise amounted to a major change in philosophy from the way architectural guidelines are enforced. At present, an inspection occurs only if a complaint has been lodged.

"And make no doubt about it," Rich told the council. "It is policing."

He said covenant advisers are free "to be more proactive, both now and in the long term. It is not only the neighbor that can complain."

Supporters of the program said a top priority should be maintaining existing houses.

"This costs some money, this costs some time," said Earl Jones, Oakland Mills' council representative. "It's an investment."

In addition to Marando and Jones, those supporting the expenditure included: Tom Forno of Harper's Choice, who chairs the Design and Covenant Committee; Jean S. Friedberg Jr. of Hickory Ridge; and Joe Merke, the council chairman.

Besides Rich, those opposing it included: Pearl Atkinson-Stewart of Owen Brown, the council vice chairwoman; Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance; Januszkiewicz, chairwoman of the budget committee; and Ken Puckett of Dorsey's Search.

Thursday's vote was nonbinding. The council will vote on the expenditure again during final budget deliberations only if it is introduced as an amendment to CA's proposed $48.9 million spending package.

The council is expected to approve the budget Feb. 23.

Forno proposed tabling a separate $35,000 request to pursue state legislation that would allow county land records to be "flagged" with outstanding covenant violations to alert potential homebuyers.

In a straw vote, the council decided to pursue making mandatory for sellers a "letter of compliance" that would clear a property of violations. Council members said they will seek support for that measure from state and local elected officials.

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