CA budget panel again rejects Sister Cities effort

Committee balks at Morrison's idea

September 06, 2001|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

At a time when the Columbia Association says it needs to tighten its belt, there is a move afoot to boost funding for one program: the Sister Cities exchange with Cergy-Pontoise, France, and Tres Cantos in Spain.

Sister Cities might seem like an odd alliance for a place like Columbia, which technically is not a city but an unincorporated community of 88,000 governed by a homeowners association.

But that hasn't stopped Columbia from forging cultural, academic and business ties with two other so-called New Towns - one of them outside Paris, the other on the outskirts of Madrid.

Columbia Council Chairman Lanny Morrison of Harper's Choice would like to keep it that way, and he is trying to accomplish that through a bureaucratic channel that seems a world apart from two foreign towns: the budget committee's marching orders.

But the budget committee has balked at being told what to do.

The council has been working on a charge for its budget committee, which will spell out the duties of the advisory committee made up of council members and citizens. The wording of the proposed charge is fairly general. It directs the committee to establish a budget calendar for the council, for example.

But Morrison has asked that the charge also include language about the exchange program, directing the committee to consider setting aside extra funds for Sister Cities, particularly because of the association with Cergy-Pontoise that will reach its 25th anniversary next year. The link with Tres Cantos was forged in 1990.

"It was a specific request for something for the budget committee to look into, to look at ways of honoring the 25th anniversary of the twinning relationship with Columbia and Cergy-Pontoise," Morrison said.

"I was looking at specific kinds of things they might recommend, at least some sort of celebration," Morrison said. "It seems to me we haven't done anything for quite some time to recognize what has been a growing relationship."

But last night, for the second time, the committee rejected Morrison's request.

"I think it's inappropriate to include specific programs or line items in the general charge to the budget committee," said Councilwoman Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills, chairwoman of the committee. "We'll be looking at this program, along with everything else, but it shouldn't have protected status."

Councilman Miles Coffman of Hickory Ridge, who was chairman of the budget committee last year and attended last night's meeting, said the Sister Cities request was not "germane" to the committee charge. "I don't think that's a proper charge for this committee."

The matter now returns to the council, which is to meet Sept. 13. Morrison's request comes at a time when the council has been talking about re-evaluating its spending priorities because the Columbia Association's revenues are tapering off and many of its older facilities need repair.

The Columbia Association's Sister Cities program has an annual budget of $81,000, which includes the salary of a full-time manager. The association provides $66,000 of that money, with the rest coming from grants and fees from participants, said the association president, Maggie J. Brown.

About 70 students from Columbia, Cergy-Pontoise and Tres Cantos participate in the exchange program each year, as do an unknown number of business people, athletes and artists, Brown said. About 9,400 people in the three towns take part annually in festivals, concerts or other events put on in conjunction with the exchanges.

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