Does Columbia Really Need Incorporation?


Those who want a referendum to incorporate Columbia as a municipality seem to be unhappy, not with Howard County government, but with the Columbia Association. They tell us that if this referendum effort is successful, Columbia residents would have their own governing body rather than CA.

You should be aware that approval of the referendum does not automatically dissolve the CA corporation or the 10 community associations or any of the covenants now in force or transfer CA's assets, debts and obligations to the new municipalities.

It would only start a protracted, litigious process in which the new Columbia municipality would attempt to "take over" CA, in whole or in part, the outcome of which is uncertain. Barring that, the new city and CA would be operating in tandem, both governing Columbia's residents and both presumably collecting taxes and/or lien assessments.

Why do we need to take this unnecessary, tortuous path? Most people recognize that reforms are needed in the way CA operates. Personally, I'd favor structural changes to make the Columbia Council a more representative body with the capacity to exercise tighter financial controls. I would also like to see a Columbia in which more of its residents participate directly in the way we are governed. Why can't we all work together to achieve these reforms without destroying the very fabric that has made Columbia such a great place to live?

Richard F. Kirchner


-------- I read the articles, I attended the meeting about it and now I am aware of the dubious "benefits" we'd derive from incorporating our splendidly conceived and Columbia Association-managed villages into Columbia City. If we became a city, here are some "benefits" we'd share:

* We would have a mayor, a deputy mayor, a mayor's cabinet, a City Council, a staff for all of these officials, assistants to the staff -- all paid by your to-be-established city tax assessment.

* We would have to clear some woodsy land for our mayor's office and clear sufficient parking space for the mayor's and deputy mayor's cars (which we will purchase) as well as the cars of council members and staff (maybe we won't have to buy them cars), and certainly bulldoze ample space for the cars of lobbyists and special interest "honest brokers." (They will supply their own limos or BMWs).

* We will be able to proudly add a whole new layer of bureaucracy to "manage" our city as well as to delay decisions and to democratically add paperwork for each of us.

* We will get federal tax credit for our new local taxes. . . . But does anyone honestly believe that it won't cost significantly more to pay salaries of the mayor, deputy mayor, City Council, their staffs, their assistants, plus the new Columbia City bureaucracy?

* Certainly, it would increase citizen communications as we would be attending numerous meetings to decide on a 'f self-imposed tax rate, determine the number of policemen, and whether we should increase taxes or cut the fire department. Then we'd move on to determine the entertainment taxes on local movies, bowling alley admissions, etc. Instead of relaxing and enjoying Jim Rouse's visionary villages, we'd be constantly attending meetings, or scurrying for signatures on petitions to protect our pocketbooks. The proponents of a city proclaim this will make us better "citizens."

Abundant evidence suggests city government is often accompanied by corruption, often as bribes for obtaining jobs or zoning variations. Usually, the larger the city, the greater the corruption. Columbia would be Maryland's second largest city.

Paul S. Newman


-------- Thousands of Columbia's residents have been open-minded about the concept of creating a municipality and have enthusiastically signed the home rule petition circulating in the community. They want to receive more specifics about the eventual proposal at a later date, yet they want to act now to help place the issue on the ballot so that they can vote on it in a year or two.

A few groups and individuals are surfacing, however, to oppose the petition process. They are already making hasty judgments and negative comments about the concept even before a specific proposal is placed on the table. It's understandable that those who have strong social or professional ties with the existing political power structure would be among the first to resist changing the way Columbia is governed. Some others are simply uncomfortable with change or have other reasons to react negatively.

On the other hand, many people, whether they are now inclined to be for or against incorporation, are willing to sign the petition because they know that they are free to make up their minds as more information becomes available.

The Columbia Municipal League recently announced that the Institute for Governmental Service expects to begin a detailed -- study of the financial and legal aspects of incorporation later in the year. Also, the league is seeking a broad cross-section of volunteers to draft a municipal charter and boundaries for the city. Once the total proposal is worked out, a healthy debate over the pros and cons of the specifics can logically take place. And then, there will be plenty of opportunities for people to become better informed before they vote.

Those who oppose the thought of creating a municipality do not appear to be interested in waiting for the details of the proposal to unfold. They give the impression that they don't even want the issue to be placed on the ballot. They seem to think that only they know what's good for Columbia and that Columbia's residents can't be trusted to decide on the eventual proposal at the ballot box. It's clear that they need to have more respect for and faith in the people of Columbia.

The relatively few who have a vested interest in preserving the authority of the Columbia Association are the least likely to change their minds. The best that we can expect from others who are initially negative is that they will ultimately join the many people who are being so receptive, are recognizing the value of bringing more democracy to Columbia and are accepting the merits of holding a referendum on this important issue.

Alex Hekimian


The writer is president of the Alliance for a Better Columbia.

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