Planning panel member gives council an earful; She criticizes how the group spends money


A member of the Howard County Planning Board lashed out last night at the Columbia Council during an otherwise placid hearing on the Columbia Association's proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.

Joan C. Lancos, a former village board member and Columbia Council representative who was appointed to the Planning Board in 1992, criticized the council for what she called a lack of "direction," "vision" and "business experience."

More than 50 residents and officials attended the meeting at Wilde Lake's Slayton House.

Lancos, who spoke as a private citizen, said she had "serious concerns" about how the council is spending residents' money.

She accused the council, CA's highest governing body, of micromanaging "everything that CA does" and implementing policies "such as the new purchasing policy that require huge amounts of paperwork, staff time and effort, yet produce little net savings to the association or benefits to the residents."

"What are you hoping to accomplish as a council?" she asked. "Who are you really representing? Yourselves or the people of Columbia you were elected to represent?"

No one on the Columbia Council was available for comment.

Lancos said she addressed some of her concerns at a private lunch last week with CA President Deborah O. McCarty. Last summer, McCarty replaced Padraic M. Kennedy, who retired.

Last night, Lancos presented the council with six pages of written testimony, three of which addressed items in CA's proposed $48.5 million budget for fiscal year 2000.

More than two dozen residents, village representatives and community leaders also testified on everything from skateboard park fees to kitchen cabinets.

Village leaders split on the merits of a community service pilot project proposed for Wilde Lake High School.

Andrew Stack, chairman of the Owen Brown Village Board, spoke against it, in part because it would be limited to one school and because the counselors' salaries seemed too high.

On behalf of residents of Hildebrand Court, Lawrence Vanderburgh, of Harper's Choice, appealed to the council for funds for increased lighting. He said residents have seen drug deals and other "suspicious activity" repeatedly on nearby CA open space and footbridges.

"This is not simply a quality of life issue," he said. "This is a life issue."

McCarty and other CA officials have called this year's budget, which includes more money for maintenance and upgrading of existing facilities than it does for building new ones, "straightforward."

CA released the proposed budget last month, the first in which there will be a surplus to spend on projects rather than deficit reduction.

In the budget, CA proposed cutting membership rates for most of its recreational facilities, including pools and gyms, by about 5 percent. The CA "assessment" -- essentially a property tax on Columbia homeowners -- would remain unchanged, at $.73 per $100 of assessed value.

CA likely will adopt a final budget at the end of next month.

Lancos' unexpected comments are likely to spark debate among council members and residents of Columbia.

She accused some council members of having a "personal agenda" and "little knowledge of how the village system operates."

"Who is watching the council now that the fox is in the henhouse?" Lancos asked. "The answer is, 'I am.' You are being watched by the 10 village boards in Columbia, who are in daily contact with the residents.

"In fact, everyone who lives or works in Columbia is watching what you do."

Pub Date: 1/28/99

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