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Grant to study incorporation is denied by Columbia Council Members say support is lacking for turning villages into a city


The Columbia Council rejected a citizen group's request last night for a $3,000 grant to help pay for a University of Maryland study on incorporating Columbia, saying most residents oppose incorporation and the money would be wasted.

Most council members said they see no support in villages they represent for turning Columbia into a city.

A city government would replace the private, nonprofit Columbia Association (CA), which imposes an annual levy on Columbia property owners to run community facilities and services under the elected council's direction.

"I'm all in favor of improving what we've got but I'm certainly not in favor of burning down our house for something that is untried and probably never will be tried," said Councilman Roy Lyons of Long Reach village.

"If you're going to burn down my house, I'm certainly not going to pay for the matches," he said.

The council denied the request on a 7-2 vote, even though its own governance committee chairman recommended hiring an outside consultant to answer questions about incorporation nearly two years ago -- before the Columbia Municipal League launched its drive last year to bring the issue to a Columbia-wide referendum.

The league, whose year-old petition drive is foundering, plans to commission an estimated $6,000 study by the University of Maryland's Institute for Governmental Service to analyze financial and legal implications of incorporating.

League members say incorporation could save money and provide a more democratic and accountable governance. Opponents argue that Columbia works well with its unique structure.

Several council members and incorporation advocates argued that the association is missing a chance to contribute to a professional study that may provide critical information at minimal cost.

Councilwoman Norma Rose of Wilde Lake village contended that the council lacks answers to crucial questions, and that "considering change helps keep the community vital. Everyone's made up their minds without sufficient information."

Hope Sachwald, the Harper's Choice village representative, refuted that charge. "What we're saying is we're not interested in more information on this subject because we like what we have," she said.

Incorporation advocates said they plan to raise money in other ways and pursue the study.

"I think they have deaf ears and hard hearts on this question," said Chuck Rees, spokesman for the league.

The league's petition drive has gathered more than 3,000 of the nearly 9,000 signatures necessary to bring the issue to referendum.

John Conlon, who chairs the council's volunteer financial advisory committee but spoke as a resident, urged the council to grant the league's request.

"A lot of residents have treated the municipal question as something to ignore and it would go away," Mr. Conlon said.

"It has whetted my appetite. It's incumbent upon this council as representatives of [taxpayers] to find out as much as you can pros and cons," he said.

In other matters, the council postponed a vote on a tentative $1 million land deal with the Rouse Co., which could clear the way for building a $400,000 recreational vehicle storage facility.

The purchase is contingent upon an environmental study of the property -- part of an old General Electric Co. manufacturing park that has land and ground water contamination.

The council discussed the environmental report last night in a closed session, and plans to discuss it publicly at the Oct. 26 meeting.

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