budget for CA leads to queries

Parts of proposal raised eyebrows at presentation last week

Hearing set for Jan. 23

January 06, 2002|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

All those massages and facials given at the Columbia Association's day spa might make patrons look and feel great, but they're taking a toll on the furniture.

The tables and chairs used for these services are said to be worn out three years after the spa opened in Columbia Gym in River Hill. The draft operating budget for the Columbia Association's coming fiscal year includes $13,500 to replace them.

The expense is one of several that raised eyebrows last week, when Columbia Association staff members presented the fiscal 2003 spending plan at a meeting with officials from the town's 10 villages.

The plan projects that the huge homeowners association will have $44.9 million in operating expenses and $47.9 million in income, resulting in a $3 million surplus for the fiscal year that will begin May 1. A proposed capital budget includes $7.8 million for big-ticket projects.

Between the proposed capital and operating budgets, the plan to eliminate towel service at the association's three health clubs is most hotly debated. The move is projected to save $230,000 a year, in part because patrons steal about 3,000 towels a month.

"If you [eliminate towel service], I will not renew my membership," Jeff Marcus of Dorsey's Search said at the meeting, which drew about 35 people to Slayton House in Wilde Lake Village Center Thursday night.

Joan C. Lancos, a Columbia resident who is running for Howard County Council, asked about plans to buy a $9,000 skate sharpener for the association's ice rink and to spend $19,500 for new pool furniture at the Jeffers Hill and Longfellow neighborhood pools. She also asked why the budget includes $3,500 for a new sound system at the Sports Park but $30,000 for a sound system at the ice rink.

Robert D. Bellamy, operations director for the association's sport and fitness division, explained that the ice rink needs a more sophisticated system because the sound must carry across the arena.

Lancos, chairwoman of the county's Planning Board, also asked what happens to current exercise equipment when the Columbia Association buys new machines for its gyms. The capital budget proposal includes $70,000 to replace treadmills and other equipment at Supreme Sports Club.

Rob Goldman, the association's vice president of sport and fitness, said officials trade in what they can when buying new equipment, but that some items are worn-out "garbage" that must be discarded.

Pamila Brown, chairwoman of the Hickory Ridge Village Board, asked whether two big-ticket pool projects - $2.3 million in repairs to Columbia Swim Center in Wilde Lake, and a $100,000 renovation to the Bryant Woods pool - are part of a larger, multiyear plan to implement changes recommended by a recent aquatics study.

Although both projects were suggested by the study, Goldman said, no long-term plan has been established to implement any other changes to the aquatics program, which includes 27 indoor and outdoor pools. More renovations, like the one proposed to make Bryant Woods more attractive to adults, might be proposed in the future, he said.

Henry F. Dagenais, chairman of the Long Reach Village Board, asked whether association staff members had taken into account the recommendations of the budget committee before preparing the draft spending plans.

The committee, an advisory panel, made several recommendations aimed at focusing the Columbia Association on its core functions as a homeowners association. Their recommendations were not included in the draft budget.

Rafia Siddiqui, the Columbia Association's chief financial officer, said the staff took its direction from the association's board of directors, which set certain guidelines for the budget.

She said one of the budget committee's recommendations conflicted with the board's orders: The committee wanted a budget with a $5 million surplus; the board wanted a $3 million surplus.

"Right there is a conflict," Siddiqui said. "The board must decide. We cannot just take any recommendation from any advisory committee."

But, Siddiqui noted, the board, which also serves as the Columbia Council, is free to incorporate the budget committee's recommendations before it finalizes the budget at the end of February. A public hearing on the budget is to be held at 7:30 p.m. Jan 23 at Columbia Association headquarters.

Dagenais also questioned the need to replace massage tables and chairs at the day spa, given that they have been in use for only three years.

Goldman said the pressure applied during a massage results in a lot of wear and tear on the furniture, so it is reasonable that the items would need to be replaced within three or four years.

At Oakworks, a Shrewsbury, Pa., manufacturer of massage tables, spokeswoman Jennifer Behn said the life expectancy of tables used in a full-time commercial practice is 10 to 20 years. They might need some repairs after five to seven years, she added.

But, Behn said, massage tables must be replaced more frequently if they are near a swimming pool - as is the case in Columbia. The humidity and chlorine in the air warp wooden frames and cause vinyl coverings to disintegrate, she said.

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