Board OKs two budgets

surplus due

$2.3 million allotted for major repairs to Swim Center

Many usage fees to rise

February 22, 2002|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Association's board of directors last night approved operating and capital budgets that provide for major repairs to the Swim Center and project substantial losses at many athletic facilities but also anticipate a $3 million surplus.

The board, whose members also serve as the Columbia Council, passed an operating budget that projects $47.9 million in income and $44.9 million in expenses. The $3 million surplus is intended for capital projects.

The board also approved a $7.3 million capital budget, which includes $2.3 million in repairs to the 30-year-old Swim Center.

The budget, which covers the fiscal year that begins May 1, maintains the current assessment rate of 73 cents for each $100 of assessed property value.

The costs to use many association recreational facilities, including the 23 outdoor pools, will increase an average of about 2 percent. But the board voted last night to boost the cost of health club memberships by 3.5 percent to help pay for continued towel service.

Council members have been working on the spending plans for months, a sometimes stormy period during which the association's budget committee complained that its recommendations had been ignored. Councilwoman Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills, who leads the committee, voted against the operating and capital budgets last night in protest.

Behind the dispute is a philosophical split over the mission of the large homeowners association, which presides over the unincorporated town of 88,000.

The committee recommended that the Columbia Association focus on what it sees as the core functions as a homeowners association - providing recreational facilities, maintaining open space and enforcing property standards - and consider phasing out what it considered extras - the Sister Cities cultural exchange program, before- and after-school day care and youth camps.

But a majority of the council, led by Chairman Lanny Morrison of Harper's Choice, said those expenditures enhanced the community's quality of life, a goal of the association's mission statement.

The rift was apparent last night when Councilman Joshua Feldmark of Wilde Lake suggested the day care program be eliminated in two of the 22 schools where it operates - Worthington and Centennial elementaries - during the next year. No Columbia schoolchildren fall into either school's district, he said, although it is possible that some residents attend if they have permission.

Michelle Miller, vice president for community services, said the program furthers the mission of the association and makes money. The program is expected to post an $86,000 operating profit in the current fiscal year, but it will lose $113,000 during the same period when administrative expenses and long-term interest charges are figured in.

The plan to phase out the day care failed, with only Feldmark and Russell voting for it.

The largest capital item in the budget is the Swim Center project, and Councilman Kirk J. Halpin of Kings Contrivance made a surprise but unsuccessful effort to eliminate it. Halpin said the project should not be pursued in the absence of a broader plan for the town's aquatics program.

A consultant found that the existing center probably would have to be replaced in 10 to 15 years despite the repairs. A new facility would cost $7 million to $14 million. Columbia Association staff members have said the repairs would allow them to get another 15 years out of the center, which has two 25-yard pools, a baby pool and a four-story water slide.

The board decided to scrap a $100,000 plan to make Bryant Woods community pool more attractive to older adults after Wilde Lake village officials expressed concern that the plan was not well defined.

The budget plan continues towel service at association gyms. Rob Goldman, the association's vice president for sport and fitness, had recommended eliminating the perk, which he says costs the association $230,000 a year.

Although Goldman urged eliminating the perk, but health club patrons objected and the council backed away from the plan.

The board decided to pay for the towels by increasing club membership rates by an average 3.5 percent instead of the 2 percent proposed in the draft budget.

Prices for membership to particular clubs were not available last night. Currently, the least expensive individual rate for membership in a Columbia Association health club is $408 a year. The budget includes smaller increases in fees to use other athletic facilities. The annual price of a family pool membership climbs from $258 to $265.

The budget projects substantial losses at many athletic facilities, though Goldman has noted that the division would be in the black without the town's popular but money-losing outdoor pools.

The budget projects losses of $1.6 million for the association's outdoor pools, $379,000 for Fairway Hills golf course, $282,000 for Hobbit's Glen golf club, $361,000 for the ice rink, $206,000 for its Sports Park, which has batting cages and miniature golf, and $118,000 for the horse center.

The capital budget includes $80,000 to build pathways in River Hill and $55,000 to improve drainage on five holes at Hobbit's Glen golf course. Other major capital items include $555,000 to study, dredge or make other improvements to Columbia's three lakes and $70,000 in new equipment at the Supreme Sports Club.

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