Board OKs pool plans

Association approves more than $3 million for capital projects

Dredging lakes possible

Talk of shifting grant funding worries nonprofit groups

Columbia

November 01, 2001|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Association's board of directors has given preliminary approval to more than $3 million in capital projects to be included in the draft budget for fiscal year 2003, including improvements to the Columbia Swim Center and studies to clear the way for dredging at two silt-choked lakes.

The budget is expected to be made final by a board vote in late February. A public hearing on the spending plan is scheduled for Dec. 20.

The board intends to maintain the current rate of 73 cents for each $100 of assessed property value, according to a statement issued by Columbia Association President Maggie J. Brown.

Board members, who also serve as the Columbia Council, made their decisions on the draft budget during a work session Saturday.

At the same time, the association's budget committee is recommending that the board take a closer look at a number of programs and expenses to see if they duplicate county services or do not fit the mission of the homeowners association. Among those mentioned by the committee are a before-and-after-school program, the Sister Cities program and financial and in-kind grants to nonprofit organizations.

"This committee is not recommending that they be terminated," said Councilwoman Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills, chairwoman of the budget committee, which advises the board on budget matters. "It's recommending that CA look into transferring these programs to another entity." For example, she said that Columbia once ran a bus service, since taken over by the county.

Even so, the suggestion was controversial, drawing a strong dissent from Councilwoman Linda Odum of Long Reach, who serves on the budget committee.

Among the nonprofit organizations that could be affected by the recommendation is the Columbia Foundation, which this year received $100,000 and free office space and supplies from the Columbia Association. The foundation shares 1,156 square feet at association headquarters with another nonprofit, Columbia Festival of the Arts, which received a $35,000 grant from the association this year. The office space and supplies are worth $29,000 a year to the two organizations, according to association records.

Barbara Lawson, executive director of the Columbia Foundation, appeared before the council last week to discuss the artistic and social service projects it supports with Columbia Association help.

"Your grant money may be going farther than you think," she said.

In its straw vote Saturday, the board decided against including $20,000 to study the possibility of turning the Swansfield neighborhood pool in Harper's Choice into a "major family leisure aquatics center," featuring a water slide, hot tub and water park-style "lazy river" that carries swimmers in a slow current. The project, which would cost $1.5 million to $2 million to build, had been suggested by an aquatics consultant hired by the Columbia Association.

But the board agreed to include $2 million for repairs at the swim center in Wilde Lake. Even with those repairs, the 30-year-old facility probably will have to be replaced with a new, $7 million to $14 million center in 10 to 15 years, the consultant found.

The board also agreed to include about $100,000 to create a "theme pool" - another suggestion from consultant David Markey of Markey and Associates in Kennesaw, Ga., who in June presented a report on the association's pool system.

Under the plan, the Bryant Woods pool would be made more attractive to adults. The money would be spent on programming changes, such as water fitness classes, and structural improvements, such as upgraded bathhouses and furniture.

The board also approved $130,000 in planning funds for the dredging of Lake Elkhorn. It approved $430,000 to plan dredging at Lake Kittamaqundi and to install a mechanism to draw down the water there.

The board included $128,000 to restore a pond in Hobbits Glen, and $411,000 for pathways in River Hill and Owen Brown. It also gave preliminary approval for a $195,000 upgrade to the Columbia Association phone system.

But the board voted against including $40,000 to plan a 6,000-square-foot addition to the Athletic Club in Harper's Choice. The proposed addition, which would cost $790,000, was intended to make the gym more attractive to senior citizens. Instead, the board decided to include $30,000 in its operating budget to study how to better serve senior citizens with athletic and other programs.

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