Proposing a 26 percent jump over current levels, the Columbia Association (CA) unveiled last night a $48.9 million spending plan for the coming fiscal year.
Much of the increase would fund a $6 million health club along Columbia's western edge, a project CA officials say would eventually bring in more than $1 million a year in profits for the large homeowners association.
The total proposed budget -- $36.1 million in operating expenses and $12.8 million in capital expenses -- will be debated by the CA's 10-member board of directors over the next two months. The athletic club is expected to be among the more contentious items.
As many as five board members appear to have reservations. They question why the CA should borrow more money for a project that will be used by only some of the planned community's residents.
The CA also is proposing to borrow an additional $7 million for its capital projects in the coming fiscal year, which would push the CA's total debt close to $95 million, association officials said.
Supporters of the athletic club, who appear to making headway with those who have doubts about the club, say it is just the kind of athletic project the CA should be building, one that eventually generates profits.
"It's very definitely going to have a positive impact on CA," said Rafia Siddiqui, vice president of administrative services for the association.
The three-story club, to be built in the River Hill village center, would house an indoor pool, weight rooms, two basketball courts and spaces reserved for youth programs.
Siddiqui said the proposed operating budget increases income by $1.7 million while increasing expenses by $1 million.
She said she expects to finish the coming fiscal year, which begins May 1, with a $3.1 million operating surplus. Much of that would be applied to capital projects.
Elsewhere in the proposed budget:
The CA expects to receive $18.2 million in property assessments from Columbia residents and businesses -- essentially the tax of the planned community. The assessment on a $180,000 house, for example, is $657 a year. The CA is not proposing any changes in its assessment rates.
The CA will not dramatically change the fees for its athletic facilities. The family rate to use the association's pools would increase from $249 to $252 for those who pay the CA assessments. For nonresidents, family rates would increase from to $504.
The CA is proposing an average pay raise of 3.5 percent for its employees, based on merit. Salaries and wages would increase by 6 percent, from $9.1 million to $9.6 million under the proposed budget.
Mike Rethman, chairman of the CA board, declined to comment last night on the specifics of the budget until he had read it fully. But he said the services offered are part of why residents live in the planned community.
Also last night, the board voted to soften a letter it will mail to Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker asking him to fully fund a $13 million overpass at the congested intersection of Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway.
As originally drafted by board member Alex Hekimian of Oakland Mills, the letter stated that Ecker needed to keep his promise to fund the intersection in order to show "the public that county can be counted on to keep its word."
Several board members said such pointed language wasn't necessary. Still, the letter approved by the board states that Ecker had promised to fund the interchange.
Ecker set aside nearly $20 million in county funds for an overpass this year. A community task force recently recommended a less-elaborate $13 million overpass.
Ecker said this month that he was willing to fund only half of the $13 million overpass and would ask the state to pick up the rest. Community activists and state politicians are urging Ecker to stick with his original plan.
Pub Date: 12/20/96