Why Columbia should become 'a real city' I write in...


March 26, 2000

Why Columbia should become 'a real city'

I write in response to your March 17 editorial "A chaotic state of affairs in Columbia" in which you suggested that the time might be right for Columbia to consider becoming a real Maryland city: I agree.

The citizens of an incorporated city of Columbia would elect representatives through a means of their choosing delineated in the municipal charter by district, ward, at-large, or combinations thereof that would have the flexibility to change by simply amending the charter from time to time as the elected officials or citizens saw fit.

The current association dues would become a municipal property tax that would be deductible from the property owners federal income tax.

The city of Columbia would have direct control over its finances and would have the ability to control the desired level and type of growth through the exercise of planning and zoning authority.

The actual municipal services rendered would be locally determined as Columbia would have the ability to exercise broad police powers and code enforcement authority by enacting local laws.

Columbia citizens could reduce liability exposure and insurance costs because civil awards against recognized Maryland cities are capped under state law.

Debt service payments could be reduced as bonds issued to the city would be tax-exempt and would generally carry a lower interest rate. Columbia, for the first time, would be eligible for various state shared revenues, such as highway user revenues and police and fire aid. Columbia citizens would no longer have to worry about the community being split into separate districts during decennial redistricting for purposes of determining governmental representation. Residents of the city would be retained within a single district, as is the case in other incorporated cities and towns in Maryland.

In 1998, the Maryland Municipal League initiated legislation that altered the incorporation process to provide a framework for discussion and cooperation between an area seeking to incorporate and their county government. The subsequent change to the incorporation law addresses two primary concerns for county government should incorporation take place: a loss of county revenues and jurisdictional authority.

The law now allows county government a three-year transitional period to make the fiscal adjustments necessary while shifting revenues from the county to the newly created municipality.

There is also a restriction barring major changes to existing zoning statutes in the newly incorporated area for a period of five years. These requirements give a new municipality time to organize and become familiar with its new local government role.

For more than 20 years the Maryland Municipal League, responding to Columbia citizen requests, has taken part in many discussions about the possible municipal incorporation of Columbia. We have always been amazed by the level of bureaucracy within the complicated layers of Columbia's homeowners association mangement structure.

Perhaps the time has come for Columbia's citizens to take charge of their own destiny by becoming a unit of Maryland local government through municipal incorporation -- if for no other reason than to create a legitimate state subdivision that is more accessible, accountable and responsive to citizens' needs and desires. I suggest that Columbia citizens seriously consider incorporating.

We urge the county governing body to use the revised incorporation process to help determine if it is in the community's best interest to incorporate in order to provide the local leadership and self-governing structure needed as Columbia continues to mature into the new millennium.

Jack A. Gullo Jr.

New Windsor

The writer is president of the Maryland Municipal League and mayor of New Windsor.

Columbia residents can't be apathetic

I attended the March 9 meeting of the Columbia Council expecting to discover the facts behind the allegations, innuendoes and outright accusations in the local press made by one or two members of the CA council against CA president Deborah McCarty and the majority of the CA council.

What I witnessed instead was a pep rally in support of Pearl Atkinson-Stewart and Kirk Halpin, who were being held responsible for leaks to the press of confidential council deliberations.

Instead of facts, interested residents and the council sat quietly and listened for about an hour and a half to what sounded (with a few exceptions) like an orchestrated series of lectures on freedom of speech. I regret to say that the same courtesy (listening) was not extended by some of the audience to members of the council who attempted to address the issues raised.

What became apparent to me, is that we have a seriously split board, where two members, feeling that they cannot prevail over the majority, took their case to the press, thereby breaking their own voluntary agreement to keep details of a closed meeting confidential.

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