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Trim debt, advisers tell Columbia Capital spending limit urged amid discussion of athletic facilities


As the Columbia Council debated last night whether to spend more money for new athletic facilities, financial advisers warned that Columbia itself needs to slim down its $90 million debt.

"It's getting to be an enormous amount of money and it keeps rising," said Karen Fireman, a member of the Columbia Council Financial Advisory Committee.

Ms. Fireman said the council needs to limit capital spending.

For the next fiscal year, 24 cents of every dollar of revenue will go to interest expense, said Rafia P. Siddiqui, the Columbia Association's vice president for administrative services.

The Columbia Association manages recreation facilities in the planned community. It collects money from property assessments on residents and recreation fees.

The mounting debt does not mean that a proposed athletic club and ice rink are necessarily out of favor. A final vote on those and other parts of next year's $3.77 million capital budget and $35 million operating budget is scheduled Wednesday and Thursday.

At a work session last night, there seemed to be a good deal of support on the council for the new $6 million athletic club, which would be built in the Village of River Hill, Columbia's newest village, on the western edge of the planned community.

The strongest proponent was council member David Berson, who represents the village. He dismissed concerns that the club would be too far away from the rest of Columbia, saying it would be built adjacent to the Route 32-Route 108 interchange.

Mr. Berson said many people exercise during rush hour, when existing athletic facilities in Columbia are difficult to get to.

Council member Norma Rose said there was not enough information showing demand for a third major athletic club in Columbia.

She suggested that the Columbia Association try to reduce crowding by reorganizing existing clubs.

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