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Association leaders go on retreat on budget


The Columbia Council and Columbia Association executives will take their annual retreat this weekend -- this time to the Eastern Shore at a cost of about $5,000 to Columbia property owners -- to debate budget priorities.

The council will discuss proposals for the 1996-1997 association budget -- among them two new recreational facilities, crime-prevention programs and revised athletic facility rates -- during a two-day retreat at the Wye River Conference Center in Queen Anne's County.

Before the retreat, council members will decide tonight whether to alter the association's liquor-license request for the new Fairway Hills Golf Course and whether to enact an internal policy prohibiting alcohol sales from mobile beverage carts.

The association license request is set for an Oct. 10 hearing before the county liquor board. The request would allow golfers to carry alcohol on the course, but some neighbors argue sales and consumption should be restricted to the clubhouse. The council is leaning against such a restriction.

At the retreat, the council plans to get a head start on next year's budget. The 10-member council directs the nonprofit association, which imposes an annual levy on Columbia property owners to help pay for community facilities and services.

The budget proposals are "ideas we don't have enough time to talk about at meetings but want consensus on," said Karen A. Kuecker, council chairwoman.

But two citizen groups that criticize the association as unaccountable say budget deliberations should take place in Columbia.

"I see what they're doing as a junket at Columbia taxpayers' expense," said Alex Hekimian, president of the advocacy group Alliance for a Better Columbia. "What they decide has a big impact."

Councilwoman Norma Rose also questions the retreat. "We could be accomplishing all the same things right here" at minimal expense, she said.

But council leaders defend the 60-mile trip, saying the environment of the conference center is conducive to productive preliminary work sessions. "It makes the whole budget process more efficient so we can focus on policy," said David W. Berson, council vice chairman.

Council members' proposals include building a second ice rink and a River Hill amusement center, expanding Columbia's Sister City program, creating more programs for youths, analyzing crime data, installing security cameras at association facilities and restructuring rates to widen the difference between Columbia residents and nonresidents.

This year's two-day Wye River retreat includes six hours of meetings over three sessions -- as well as cocktails and late-evening refreshments. It costs $270 each for 10 council members and seven association executives plus mileage.

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