A group of Columbia residents began waving around some tantalizing numbers recently. According to this group, the Community Panel on Governance, Columbia could save up to $25 million and allow its residents to write off $3 million a year in state and federal taxes if the town were incorporated or made a special tax district.
The panel is recommending that the Columbia Forum, which is charged with coming up with future goals for Columbia, establish a commission to look into the merits of changing the town's status and the possible benefits that would result.
We agree. A commission should be established to look at different ways Columbia might be governed, including the more radical ideas of incorporation and a special tax district.
The latter two approaches could thrust Columbia into a highly charged and political atmosphere in which the losses could well outweigh the benefits. For many reasons, we're dubious of that proposal. Columbia residents, however, are entitled to find that out for themselves.
In the process, residents should ask how likely it is that the Howard County Council would sign off on incorporation and forfeit the tax revenues it currently derives from Columbia, where 40 percent of all county residents reside. Also, how likely is it that Columbians will want to foot the bill for separate police and fire protection, as well as other services now provided by the LTC county?
In the case of a special tax district, do Columbians want the county council, which includes non-Columbia residents, to set the fee they currently pay for the town's amenities?
These are just some of the questions that must be answered. Columbians deserve those answers, especially in light of the big savings the panel on governance is touting if certain hurdles can be overcome.
How big are those hurdles? Supporters of incorporation say this step would allow the city to refinance its current bond debt at more favorable rates and save $25 million. Critics say such refinancing is sure to be followed by lawsuits from bond holders who were guaranteed a specific rate of return on their investment and are unlikely to accept anything less.
Now, that's a major hurdle.