CA needs to refocus, challengers contend

3 Columbia Council hopefuls skeptical of continued growth


March 27, 2002|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Three challengers in next month's Columbia Council races say they want to rein in the huge homeowners association.

Six Columbia Council members are up for re-election, and three are unopposed - Joshua Feldmark of Wilde Lake, Donna Rice of Town Center and Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills.

Each of the other three incumbents - Miles Coffman of Hickory Ridge, Chairman Lanny Morrison of Harper's Choice and Pearl Atkinson Stewart of Owen Brown - faces a single challenger. They are Joel Yesley of Hickory Ridge, Wolfger Schneider of Harper's Choice and Barry Blyveis of Owen Brown.

In candidate statements filed last week, all of the challengers contend that the Columbia Association needs to implement financial reforms and focus its attention on the town of 88,000 instead of the broader Howard community.

The incumbents say there is room to improve the Columbia Association, but their language and plans are more measured. They mostly call for continuing initiatives that are under way.

In Harper's Choice, Schneider states that the association "is still deeply in debt and looking to expand its domain in hopes of garnering more revenue. This growth mentality has been one source of resident dissatisfaction."

By contrast, Morrison describes an organization that is in pretty good shape. "We have forged once-again collegial relationships between CA and Columbia's villages; I want to help build on them," Morrison wrote. "We have a financially sound CA; I want to assure it does even better."

Voting is April 20. Owen Brown will also hold balloting April 19.

In Owen Brown, Blyveis makes an issue of a plan - which died in November 2000 in a tie council vote - to annex a 665-acre Rouse Co. development in North Laurel. He said the plan would have forced the association to borrow $3 million. Stewart supported annexation, as did Morrison and Coffman. They said the plan would have been a financial windfall.

"CA must ensure that most facilities run in the black, with surpluses devoted to reducing CA's staggering debt and to making the outdoor pools free," Blyveis wrote. "CA has shockingly proposed on several occasions to use the residents' money to build facilities outside of Columbia."

Blyveis apparently was referring to a suggestion that the association build a swimming pool outside of Columbia. The association's vice president for sport and fitness, Rob Goldman, made the suggestion at a council work session six months ago. Yesterday, he said he still thinks it makes sense to build recreation facilities outside Columbia if they make money, but he said a pool probably would not be profitable. The council never voted on the idea.

But the incumbents have backed other initiatives that expand the association's reach beyond the town's borders. They have expanded a volunteer center to serve all of Howard County with financial help from outsiders. They also have supported an association before- and after-school program that critics say duplicates county day care, loses money and serves at least two schools that are not districted for Columbia pupils.

Morrison, Stewart and Coffman have said those programs enhance Columbia's quality of life - a goal in the association's mission statement. Coffman has said he might consider shifting the day care program to the county, if he could be assured it would be as well run as under the Columbia Association.

In her statement, Stewart says she has accomplished many things in 14 years on the council and village board, including enhancements to Lake Elkhorn. She says she looks forward to continuing the strategic planning process, wants to implement some of the suggestions made in a consultant's study of the association's pool system, stabilize revenues and expenditures, address crime and education, and review the association's governance structure.

In Hickory Ridge, challenger Yesley said he would use his skills as an economist to improve the Columbia Association.

"CA is operating in a wasteful manner with insufficient regard for residents' priorities," he wrote. "Underutilized activities divert funds from more popular activities, like neighborhood pools, which should be priced more reasonably."

Coffman, the Hickory Ridge incumbent, pointed to his leadership of the council's finance and audit committees and his work on the 2003 budget. He said he also looks forward to working on the governance issue and strategic planning.

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