CA budget funds indoor tennis, bocce courts

The Columbia Association Board of Directors delivered few surprises last week when it met and passed the capital and operating budgets for the next two fiscal years.

In a Feb. 27 meeting that dragged late into the evening, the board was unanimous in its approval of the fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2016 capital budgets, which total $12.81 million and $9.66 million, respectively. The operating budgets for fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2016, which total $63,314,000 and $65,005,000 respectively, were approved by a 6-3 vote, with board members Alex Hekimian, Gregg Schwind and Russ Swatek voting against.

Board member Tom O'Connor, of Dorsey's Search, was absent.

Although the end result was largely as expected, it didn't mean the night was without its fair share of intrigue.

An 11th-hour shuffle of $350,000 in the 2015 capital budget proposed taking $200,000 from constructing a multi-generational park, with bocce ball courts, in Hickory Ridge to partially fund architecture and engineering for a new indoor tennis facility, which is planned near the SportsPark in Harper's Choice.

The proposed swap, which was done to appease advocates of the $3.5 million tennis facility – who have been vocal throughout the budget process – would've expedited construction of the facility by a year, allowing for possible opening in 2015.

The move also would have pushed back funding for the Hickory Ridge park, located adjacent to the village center, to the 2016 capital budget.

The proposal, which ultimately didn't pass, came much to the chagrin of a gaggle of village residents in attendance.

"I think (the park) gives us an opportunity to attract more people to the village center area, to keep our businesses more alive," said Mark Holdrege, a Hickory Ridge resident. "This has been in the works, thought through, re-worked. A lot of community attention has gone into this."

Community advocate and Hickory Ridge resident Joan Lancos said Hickory Ridge, especially when compared to Harper's Choice, is an underserved community when it comes to amenities.

"We have one small building, the Hawthorn Center, which is used, and used and used. We are the only CA village that does not have a facility at our center," she said. "We didn't ask for our own Kahler Hall [the Harper's Choice community center], we didn't ask for our own indoor swim center, we are asking for bocce courts, a playground, some pathways and some pavilions. [It would be] a draw to our center so that the residents of Hickory Ridge can have the same level of pride that all the other villages can have."

To appease all parties, the board voted to allocate $200,000 back into the 2015 budget for the Hickory Ridge project, taking from $380,000 previously allocated toward upgrading equipment at CA's existing sports and fitness facilities. The $200,000 taken from equipment in the 2015 budget was rolled into the 2016 budget.

The most notable item in the capital budgets was the allocation of $4 million toward constructing Haven on the Lake, a downtown wellness retreat set to open in the Rouse Company building in September.

Other capital allocations include $580,000 in the 2015 budget toward constructing the pathway loop around Lake Kittamaqundi, a much-anticipated project that is expected to be completed by the fall; and $75,000 in the 2016 budget to go toward planning for a downtown amenity aimed at replacing the bell tower, which was torn down in 2010 because of structural damage.

On the operating side, a heated board discussion ensued over compensation for CA employees, ultimately resulting in the split budget vote.

Currently, CA employees are compensated on a merit-based raise and bonus program. If an employee reaches set goals during the year, they are given raises and bonuses at percentage increases. Schwind, Swatek and Hekimian all voted against the budgets, both of which fund both programs, because they feel the two programs overlap.

Ultimately, the board funded both the programs and agreed to hire a consultant to study both the bonus structure and the raise structure.

The board voted in the budget to increase package plan rates across the board. Existing CA resident members who renew packages early will see rates rise by between 1 and 3 percent depending on what package they own. Family package holders will be increased 3.1 percent, two-member plan holders will be charged a 1.6 percent increase and individual plan holders will be increased 1.1 percent.

Package Plan Plus holders will see a similar increase. Existing CA resident members who renew packages early will be charged between 1 and 2 percent more. Owners of the family package will be charged a 1.1 percent increase, two-member plan holders will be charged a 2.3 percent increase and individual plan holders will be increased 1.6 percent.

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