Candidates hear concerns of Kings Contrivance

Issues are spending, liens, CA effectiveness

April 19, 2001|By Marian Morton | Marian Morton,SUN STAFF

At a public forum last night, the two candidates vying for the Kings Contrivance seat on the Columbia Council heard residents' concerns about wasteful spending, lien rates and the effectiveness of the Columbia Association.

About a dozen residents came to Amherst House armed with questions for incumbent Kirk Halpin and challenger Steven Pine.

Halpin asked residents to re-elect him so that he could tend to some unfinished business, namely, the drafting of a strategic plan for Columbia's future.

He said the plan should include strategies for fighting crime, improving schools and revitalizing aging neighborhoods.

"Where's Columbia going now?" Halpin said. "Where's Columbia going in five years? I think it would be great to have a document where everyone comes together and agrees what our vision is, what our goals are."

Pine, 48, has lived in Columbia for six years. Retired from the Air Force, he works as a database administrator at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

He identified the lien rate and the proposed annexation of the Key property, a Rouse Co. development, as issues on which he differed with his opponent.

Halpin supported the proposed annexation, which was defeated in November, but Pine said he would have voted against it.

"I feel that Columbia should be able to maintain the current grounds [it has] instead of gaining more grounds," Pine said.

Halpin, 30, a corporate and real estate lawyer and five-year Columbia resident, spent part of the evening defending his record on the council since he was elected two years ago.

He was involved in several issues that divided the council in recent months, such as the proposed change in the way the Columbia Association calculates lien rates - the local equivalent of property taxes.

Halpin supported the change, which was approved in December, saying it would not affect how much lien-payers would be charged and would comply with the new state Truth in Taxation law.

Critics said the move put lien-payers at risk of drastically higher assessment bills because it effectively lifted a cap on the tax rate.

The council reversed the decision last month, reverting to the original method of calculation after the Maryland attorney general found that the law did not apply to the association as a private homeowners organization.

The council sets policies and approves the annual budget for the association in the community of 87,000.

Last night, peppered with questions about his support of the change, Halpin said he does not favor raising the assessment, but would welcome suggestions on how to reconcile higher expenses with lower revenues.

"That needs to be corrected," Halpin said.

Pine emphasized the need for more accountability and improved fiscal management by the council to help save money without raising the assessment or cutting community services provided by the association.

"I think that some of the excessive expenses are coming from the areas of management and accountability," Pine said.

In response to a question about the effectiveness of the association, Halpin and Pine said it works.

"It's worked in the past, it's held things together ... that can still work," Pine said.

"Right now, it's still providing services to Columbia residents," Halpin added.

The candidates also concurred on the relationship of the village boards with the association.

"I think their job is to represent the views of the village to the council," Pine said, pointing out that the boards force the association to look more closely at local issues.

"I'm definitely an advocate of the village board," Halpin said. "I think the relationship is good as it stands."

Under Columbia's voting rules, the village has two days of voting. Kings Contrivance residents will vote from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. tomorrow and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Amherst House.

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