Columbia Council budget plan draws praise, suggestions

More open-space workers pleases, but not failure to fund housing inspection

January 25, 2001|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Council's proposed $51.7 million budget drew mostly praise, and a few suggestions, at a public meeting last night.

Representatives of Columbia's 10 villages said they were pleased the draft included funds to hire extra workers to maintain the town's open space, which many of them said had not been kept up to the town's standards last year.

Village officials urged the council to include money for salary increases for village employees. A compensation study is expected to recommend raises when it comes out this month.

And the officials also asked for funds to continue a housing inspection program begun as a pilot in three villages last summer. However, no funds were included in the proposed budget for it.

The proposed budget covers the fiscal year that begins May 1 and ends April 30, 2002. It includes projected operating expenses of $44.4 million and capital expenditures of $7.3 million. It projects revenues of $47.2 million.

Under the plan, Columbia property owners would pay the same amount in liens as in the current fiscal year.

Last month, the council cut the lien rate in half, from 73 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 36.5 cents. But the amount lien-payers pay stays the same because the council also voted to assess property at 100 percent instead of the current 50 percent.

Village officials urged the council to accept proposed budget items large and small - from a $10,000 photocopier for the Oakland Mills village office to a $425,000 renovation to Kahler Hall in Harper's Choice.

Among the proposed big-ticket items are: $240,000 to replace the boat dock and pier on Lake Elkhorn; $338,000 to build pathways in River Hill; $393,000 to replace pathways elsewhere in town; $110,000 to replace Oakland Mills neighborhood entry signs; and $144,000 to replace the swim center roof.

Several village officials supported spending $20,000 to study whether to build a semipermanent band shell to replace the temporary structure used for free weekly concerts at Lake Elkhorn. The entire project would cost $80,000.

"The current arrangement is makeshift and looks unprofessional," said Bill McCormack of the Oakland Mills Village Board.

Many village officials said they were pleased that the proposed budget included money to hire five additional full-time maintenance workers. They repeated complaints made last summer about uncut grass and "leggy" flowers.

Village officials said they were disappointed that the spending plan did not include funds to continue a housing inspection program begun in the summer. Columbia has architectural covenants that govern everything from house colors to lawn ornaments. Residents are supposed to obtain permission from village architectural committees before making changes to the exterior of their property, including landscaping.

Until last summer, it took a complaint from someone in the community to prompt an investigation. But under a $35,000 pilot program launched in July, inspectors patrolled Harper's Choice, Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake in search of problems.

Many village officials called the program a success, and said they were disappointed that no money had been included in the budget request to continue it.

Maggie J. Brown, interim president of the Columbia Association, said funds were not included because the program was just getting off the ground when the draft budget was being prepared. She said Long Reach village asked recently for $10,000 to $15,000 to establish the program.

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