$900,000 for golf course repairs

Board OKs capital, operating budgets

Columbia

February 21, 2003|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Association's board of directors voted Wednesday night to spend nearly $900,000 refurbishing Hobbit's Glen Golf Club, including the rebuilding of 16 greens, replacing grass on four and renovating of the course clubhouse.

The course will be closed in August and is expected to reopen in May 2004, depending on the weather.

The golf course work was included in a capital budget for the association's 2004 fiscal year beginning May 1, that included $7.8 million in spending on projects ranging from repairs for Historic Oakland, the manor house in Town Center, to renewal of a number of village center buildings.

The council also approved the $45.9 million operating budget for the 95,000- resident homeowners association.

Other major capital projects include $388,000 to complete pathways in River Hill; $485,000 to renovate Slayton House in Wilde Lake; $375,000 to renovate Owen Brown Community Center; $417,000 for pathway restoration; and $300,000 to replace the Wilde Lake Cove dock and bulkheads.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of an editing error, an article in Friday's Howard County and Anne Arundel County editions of The Sun mischaracterized Columbia Association board member Kirk Halpin's view about the association's fiscal year 2004 operating budget. Halpin felt the budget was imprudent.
The Sun regrets the error.

The board voted 8-2 to approve the capital budget and 9-1 in favor of the operating budget, which projects $50 million in income and a $4.4 million surplus.

The board also voted unanimously to keep the property assessment rate at 73 cents per $100 of valuation - on 50 percent of the fair market value - for the 2004 fiscal year.

Fast-rising property values had inflated the association's anticipated income from the assessment by more than $2 million for the coming fiscal year and had led to talk by some board members of a possible cut in the assessment rate.

The operating budget includes rate increases of at least 2 percent for the association's membership plans and most of its facilities, including 23 outdoor pools and three gyms.

The operating budget does not include the proposed $50,000 for board member stipends, in which each of the 10 members would have received $5,000 each if they attended at least 80 percent of the required meetings from beginning to end.

Board member Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance had proposed the idea as a way to encourage more residents to run in the usually sparse elections. But the board opted to remove the stipends from the budget.

The operating budget also marks the end of the Lake Kittamaqundi boat rentals, which the association proposed to end because of low usage.

Board member Donna Rice of Town Center had been lobbying for a replacement before the rentals end and tried a final attempt to save waterfront activities Wednesday night.

She proposed adding $15,000 to the capital budget for planning funds for a replacement activity so the Town Center lakefront ambiance "doesn't get completely lost and we at least have some sort of plan to salvage the area."

The proposal was voted down.

Despite the operating budget's projected $4.4 million surplus, which will be used for capital projects, the association is still planning to borrow $3.4 million for capital projects.

Halpin, who voted against the operating budget, pointed to that $3.4 million in borrowing and said he did not feel the budget was imprudent.

Board member Joshua Feldmark of Wilde Lake, who voted against the capital budget, said he objected primarily to the amount the association will spend at Hobbit's Glen.

In addition to the $185,000 for the clubhouse, the greens construction is estimated to cost $679,000 for rebuilding 16 greens and replacing the grass on four. The net business loss for closing the course for one year is projected to be $529,000.

Board member Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills, who also voted against the capital budget, said she felt the decision to rebuild the greens at the golf course was "preordained from the beginning."

"We devoted a lot of time to talking about Hobbit's Glen, but we did not devote a lot of time to talking about what the alternatives may be," she said. "I'm just not sold on it. It's such a major, major expenditure."

Russell said she would have liked the board to discuss the minority report from the association's budget advisory committee, in which committee member Joel Yesley said the greens should be rebuilt and the association should now be looking for new management at the course.

The rest of the budget committee agreed that if the course's financial status does not improve within a few years of the greens being rebuilt, the association should consider alternative management.

The damaged greens have led to financial losses at the golf course recently. In the past fiscal year, the course had a $413,000 loss - $191,000 more than budgeted.

Association managers have blamed the damaged greens on a variety of factors, including poor original course construction, the 35-year-old age of the course and turf disease.

However, some residents, including a group of longtime golfers, have laid the blame on the course's management.

The planning and construction funds for the Hobbit's Glen clubhouse were part of the extra $359,000 that the board added to the capital budget during work sessions in January and this month.

The board also added $19,000 to modify the racquetball courts for squash and racquetball at Columbia Athletic Club, and $255,000 for renovating Historic Oakland, the 1811 mansion that is Town Center's community building.

The board also reduced the association's contingency from $200,000 to $100,000. An attempt by board member Pearl Atkinson-Stewart of Owen Brown to restore the contingency was rejected.

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