By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun
8:51 AM EST, January 28, 2012
Columbia Association board members heard requests from residents and village board members, ranging from security improvements to upgrades to aging infrastructure, at a public hearing on how to spend the homeowner group's nearly $60 million annual budget for the next two years.
Many of the representatives of the 10 villages that make up Columbia expressed interest in additional security at village offices, while others want funding for upgrades to facilities. Many asked for lake dredging to remain a top priority.
"We want to make sure we are protecting our employees and residents," said Abby Hendrix, Oakland Mills board chairwoman, who asked for a security assessment of her village's office.
She was joined at the Wednesday meeting by representatives from the Dorsey's Search, Hickory Ridge, Kings Contrivance and other village boards who requested additional safety features, such as exterior surveillance cameras and security assessments, for village buildings.
Anne Brinker, village manager for Kings Contrivance, said the Amherst House, has been the target of vandalism, including spray painting.
When CA board member Gregg Schwind asked what prompted the requests for added security, Brinker replied that police have been called to monitor the location, but "we can't have police sit out there all night."
In addition to security concerns, almost all of the village representatives requested facility improvement projects.
Karen Hitcho, chairwoman of the Long Reach village board, asked for updates to the Tamar Room at the Stonehousefacility, which could help attract more rentals — a source of income for the village.
Hendrix asked for money to upgrade the Talbot Springs pool, which she said needs much more attention, including a new pool shell. She told the board it's difficult to attract swimmers when other pools in the area are in better condition.
After the village representatives made presentations for funding, Michael Cornell, CA board vice chairman, said, "Columbia is not a brand-new community. … A lot of what we are seeing is a result of the aging,"
He asked board members to consider what options Columbia has in paying for the increasing needs — including raising fees for residents, raising the cap on those charges or taking on new debt.
"It's just a general discussion. I'm not questioning the need, but at some point it's got to be paid for," Cornell said.
While many municipalities have suffered declining revenues and cuts to services, the Columbia Association, which charges residents an annual fee based on property values, expects a surplus. The organization plans to continue financing capital projects while working to whittle down debt accrued over the years,
About 15 percent of next year's budget — $10.4 million — is slated for capital expenditures. The largest project, improvements to Symphony Woods Park, is expected to cost $1.6 million over two years. Other capital projects include about $850,000 in watershed improvement projects; $400,000 for energy-efficiency projects; and $270,000 for Lake Kittamaqundi pathways, boardwalk and a bridge.
The majority of CA's budget, about 36 percent, or $25 million, goes to sports facilities and programs; 17 percent, or about $11.5 million, to open space management; and just over 9 percent, or about $6.3 million, to debt repayment.
A number of residents at the meeting expressed support for lake dredging and projects to curb the flow of storm water into streams and sewers, which contributes to the sediment that must be dredged at Columbia's three lakes.
Elaine Pardoe, founder of CLEER, Community for Lake Elkhorn's Eventual Restoration, said "we have many decades to make up for."
She and other residents asked the association to help pay for community outreach, to inform residents of ways to reduce residential runoff that carries sediment and algae-producing nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The Lake Elkhorn watershed covers 2,500 acres, with nearly one-third of it paved surfaces or rooftops that allow water to quickly flow into storm drains and streams, carrying mud and pollutants into the lake.
"We need to find better ways to show people what's being done and can be done. The health of the watershed affects everyone," Pardoe said.
Columbia Association Vice Chairwoman Shari Zaret agreed that "the educational component is so important."
The board is expected to vote on the budgets by the end of February.
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