Columbia to ask experts, scholars for incorporation information


The Columbia Council plans to bring experts and scholars to town -- at a cost of no more than $1,000 per speaker plus reasonable expenses -- to deliver presentations on the costs and benefits of changing Columbia's governance.

The 10-member council voted unanimously last night to sponsor symposiums on March 14, 21 and 28, each featuring three speakers who would present scholarly papers on the potential effects of incorporating Columbia as a municipality or a special tax district. Separate symposiums would be devoted to financial and budgetary implications, political and intergovernmental matters and social and "catch-all" issues.

While the council plans its symposiums, an independent coalition is busy collecting signatures from Columbia registered voters to petition a referendum on the incorporation issue.

The coalition says a city government would be more open, accountable and responsive than the private, nonprofit Columbia Association (CA). The association, which has a $32 million operating budget, charges an annual levy on Columbia property owners to oversee recreational facilities, community programs and parklands for the unincorporated community of 80,000 residents.

"We may have to deal with this issue," said Councilwoman

Norma Rose of Wilde Lake Village. "We may be required to at least provide information to guide people. It's a long way off, but we want to do as thorough a job as we possibly can to be prepared for [a referendum]."

The council is CA's board of directors, forming policy and the budget.

A council subcommittee formed nearly a year ago to study governance recommended the symposiums. It also has discussed hiring a consultant to analyze costs and benefits of incorporating.

Committee leader David W. Berson, the council's vice chairman, has criticized the coalition's movement, saying the group has plunged headlong into an initiative that could have major consequences without offering answers to many questions.

"Deciding incorporation is right before looking at questions and answers is putting the cart before the horse," he said in an interview this week.

After some debate, the council voted to offer speakers, who would be expected to produce publication-quality studies, a maximum honorarium of $1,000. A motion to cap honorariums at $500 died in a deadlocked vote. Travel expenses would be provided for out-of-town speakers.

Each symposium would allow for a discussion period among the speakers and questions from the council and audience.

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