Town strong, Brown asserts

But CA president warns of complacency and challenges

`Cannot become comfortable'

January 10, 2002|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Columbia and the homeowners association that runs the town are in strong shape, but the community must guard against becoming complacent, Columbia Association President Maggie J. Brown said yesterday.

In the annual State of Columbia speech sponsored by the Columbia Business Exchange, Brown said the planned community of 88,000 must rise to meet several challenges as it enters its 35th year.

"We cannot become comfortable because the future always presents challenges," Brown told about 110 people who gathered for the lunchtime address at the Columbia Hilton.

Brown took the helm of the homeowners association last February after a national search for a president fell apart amid infighting on the Columbia Council. The previous president, Deborah O. McCarty, left in May 2000 under pressure after 20 months.

There was a passing reference to that period of strife as Brown was introduced by Gloria Berthold, president of Columbia Business Exchange, a networking group. Berthold said Brown had been appointed during "that smooth transition we had."

Brown began by telling the crowd that she quickly accepted the offer to give the State of Columbia address, but then hesitated.

"I said to myself, `Generally, the Rouse Co. does that,'" she said, referring to the company that developed Columbia.

But Brown was eventually convinced that it was appropriate to make the speech, which she said included data assembled by Rouse and the Howard County Economic Development Authority.

Brown gave a brief overview of the planned community, which developer James W. Rouse founded in 1967 as a community where people of all races, religions and incomes would be welcome.

Brown said Columbia is the hub of Howard County, the wealthiest county in Maryland and the seventh richest in the country. About 60 percent of the county's largest employers are in Columbia, providing some of the town's 74,000 jobs, she said.

Brown said the Columbia Association is financially strong, noting that three bond-rating agencies have given it a AA rating.

The association provides recreational services, maintains open space and enforces property standards in the town. Its proposed $44.9 million operating budget for fiscal year 2003 projects a $3 million surplus, which officials intend to use for capital projects.

Brown said that 40 percent of Columbia households have a membership in one or more of its recreational facilities. About 3,000 children attend association before-school and after-school day care, and more than 4,000 attend association camps, she said.

But Brown warned of challenges for the organization, listing several of the issues that the Columbia Council recently identified as part of a strategic planning project. Those issues range from the impact of increasing competition on Columbia businesses to residents' fading awareness of the original Columbia vision.

Brown said residential and commercial development is nearing completion, so revenue from the property-tax-like assessment that the association levies would level off. At the same time, many of the organization's recreational and community facilities are in need of renovation.

She said that the community's demographics are shifting, with the senior citizen population growing and household size shrinking.

Brown said the association is taking steps to address some of the those issues. The proposed budget includes $7.8 million in capital expenses, and about 90 percent of that is reinvestment in existing facilities.

She said the association has a senior advisory committee that helps identify the needs of those residents. The proposed budget includes $100,000 to make the Bryant Woods pool more attractive to senior citizens.

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