Letters to the Editor

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

November 16, 2003

CA programs favor wealthier lien-payers

I feel that the Columbia Association (CA) Board should address the matter of returning to the lien-payer some of the money collected as a result of the recent real property assessment. The operation of the outdoor pools, the open space, the golf courses, etc. is extremely costly. Note that some of those facilities are used by relatively few, mostly the affluent; for instance, each of the golf courses loses up to $150,000 annually. Additionally, the $800,000 required to refurbish the Hobbit's Glen Golf Course must be added to the revenue lost because that golf course is closed for renovations.

CA President Maggie Brown has informed me that the cost of open-space management accounts for 44 percent of the assessment income. We should be aware that one activity enjoyed by the children/families of all income levels lost $8,000 in one year - the paddle boat operation on Lake Kittamaqundi became too great a loss to sustain and, therefore, was closed.

As for the horse center, nothing had been heard lately. Supposedly, the center has been contracted out, while the CA assumes the responsibility of paying for the repairs and the general maintenance. Is the CA profiting from this contract? Why does silence prevail regarding the horse center?

When the CA operated the horse center, very few lien-payers could afford to use it, even though everyone's assessment financed the facility; in short, the horse center benefited the privileged few.

Of course, the CA staff does not have to be concerned about the cost of facilities utilized by the average lien-payer because the staffers enjoy a board-voted, free package plan membership. In addition to these benefits, the staffers received a generous pay increase while the non-elite lien-payers, such as this writer, struggle during these difficult economic times.

Why doesn't the CA eliminate one of the money-losing golf courses and use that money to reduce the debt? Why doesn't the CA use a phase-in process of real property assessment similar to the process used by the state? Why doesn't the CA review the amenities and determine how better to provide for more participation by most of the average lien-payers and their family members?

The fiscal, budgetary matters aside, I am also concerned about the organizational structure, as well as about the election process for representatives. The current structure of the Columbia Association is such that some lien-payers do not have input regarding their assets and resources. When each household is allowed only one vote, regardless of the number of adult contributing lien-payers, then the democratic process is negated.

Another, incongruous factor needing modification is the requirement that 90 percent to 100 percent of the community must participate in order to effect any proposed covenant change(s).

Speaking of effective participation, I note that the current electoral process for determining representatives to the Columbia Council/Board lacks consistency; the frequencies of elections, as well as the term(s) of office, vary from village to village. In instances when the term is so short and the rotation is frequent, the elected person has inadequate time to absorb the mechanics of the system. Consequently, built-in failure and ineffectiveness has a high probability of occurring.

In addition to improving the electoral process, the Columbia Association Board should have open business sessions, excepting those which address malfeasance-in-office or any similar behavior. Having closed-door sessions concerning the disbursement of the lien-payers' money is akin to having smoky back-room sessions. Why not allow us lien-payers to observe in open-session the Columbia Association Board's plans to waste our money?

I challenge fellow Columbians to speak out so that the CA Board will know their ideas and concerns relevant to the issues of improving fiscal governance and responsibility.

Thomas D. Wallace Sr.

Columbia

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