Columbia panel urges keeping alcohol funding

2-1 vote rejects ban on spending for group events

September 06, 2006|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,Sun reporter

A Columbia Association oversight committee is urging that the organization continue to allow using association money to provide alcohol for meetings and social events, and reject a proposed ban on the practice.

Cynthia Coyle, a board member representing Harper's Choice and a member of the oversight committee, proposed the ban on using association funds for alcohol.

"It's not a matter of money so much, even though it adds up to thousands of dollars. It's more the principle and why can't they have an event without alcohol?" Coyle said. "They can have nice food. Why do they have to have booze, and why should [Columbia] lien payers have to pay for it?"

But the oversight committee recently recommended 2-1 against such a restriction.

Miles Coffman, chairman of the Performance Oversight Committee, said that the cost of providing alcohol on occasion is not exorbitant and that a restriction could unfairly affect the individual Columbia village associations, which receive association funds.

According to the committee's report, Columbia's 10 individual village associations together spent an estimated $1,500 on alcohol last year.

The private, nonprofit homeowners association for the planned community of nearly 100,000 residents has a multi-million-dollar budget. In addition to open space and its sports and fitness facilities, some of the association's funds support each of Columbia's 10 villages.

The association holds such social events such as retreats, holiday parties and picnics throughout the year. Staff members have told the oversight committee that they were unable to come up with a total amount the association spent on alcohol at its events because such expenses were combined with those for food and other beverages. But the committee report added that a holiday party and the annual summer picnic -- two separate events -- together cost an estimated $3,000 in alcohol.

Henry F. Dagenais, board member for Long Reach and member of the oversight committee, said the association should continue to provide alcohol, but not hard alcohol.

"I would be in favor of serving wine at dinner and beer at a picnic," he said.

But Alex Hekimian, president and co-founder of Alliance for a Better Columbia, a watchdog group, said he told the oversight committee, "If you give away free booze, why not give out free cigarettes because I'm sure people would like to have a cigarette, too."

Hekimian said he did not understand why the committee did not approve a ban.

"I am very concerned, and I think people in the community are concerned, that our money is spent this way, and there is no reason to give out free booze," Hekimian said. "There is a safety issue, and they can drink as much as they want and then they can go drive? What kind of message does that send?"

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