The Long Reach village board didn't expect to see much of lawyers this year but found itself digging deeper and deeper to pay legal fees to defend a challenged election.
Now just halfway through the fiscal year, facing a legal tab that's nearly 16 times more than it budgeted, the board is asking the Columbia Council for a $24,923 supplement.
After learning that former Long Reach council representative Gail Bailey would not take the contested village election to the state's appellate courts, the village board wrote to the council Oct. 20 seeking reimbursement for most of its $31,293 legal bill.
The village allocated $2,000 for legal fees for the budget year that began May 1. The $31,293 bill amounts to 7.5 percent of Long Reach's $419,266 budget -- including a $165,300 Columbia Association grant -- used primarily for paying staff members, operating and maintaining facilities, and sponsoring events. Last year's legal bill was $683.
"The [community center] building is in fine shape, people are getting paid and normal work is getting done, but we're a little more austere," said village administrator Sarah Uphouse.
The hefty bill resulted from the village's April 24 election for the council, which sets policy and the budget for the nonprofit Columbia Association. The association charges property owners an annual property lien and has a $30.6 million operating budget to run recreational facilities and community programs, and maintain open space in the unincorporated city of 80,000.
Roy T. Lyons, who represents Long Reach on the 10-member council and was the apparent loser in last spring's election, challenged the results. He contended that Dr. Bailey unfairly received 276 votes from two apartment owners who cast ballots for each unit in their buildings.
Voting rules in eight of Columbia's 10 villages allow one vote per household, or property, rather than one vote per person.
Dr. Bailey filed a lawsuit before the second election June 5 -- won by Mr. Lyons under revised rules -- in an attempt to preserve her original victory. In a Sept. 16 decision, Howard Circuit Court Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. denied Dr. Bailey's claims, ruling that apartment owners are entitled to one vote per property lot, not one vote for each dwelling unit.
In addition to the money spent by Long Reach village, the Columbia Association, which also was a defendant because it enforces village covenants, incurred about $15,000 in legal costs.
Long Reach officials say their request is justified because the court's decision clarifies election rules for all of Columbia.
Council Chairwoman Karen Kuecker said the council hasn't discussed the request, adding, "We don't have those kind of moneys set aside for our own legal fees."
Long Reach's effort is unprecedented, said Pam Mack, the association's director of community relations, although the association occasionally has helped villages pay for mid-year crises such as mechanical system failures.
The council will consider the budget request at its 8 p.m. meeting today at the Columbia Association Building on Wincopin Circle.
In other business, council members are to consider scheduling a Town Meeting to promote more dialogue with residents on issues of concern.
The council also will discuss plans for a 23-home development in Owen Brown village and a proposal to establish a memorial for former Council Chairman John M. Hansen.