Columbia Council passes budget of $48.2 million with few surprises; Expenditures up 6%; some fees are changed


With little fanfare, the Columbia Council has passed a $48.2 million budget for the coming fiscal year, approving more than a million dollars for improvements to Columbia's trademark pathways and eliminating a proposed decrease in health club membership fees.

After 3 1/2 hours of discussion over items from Athletic Club dumbbells to Hobbits Glen golf rates, the 10-member council, the elected body that governs the Columbia Association, approved the budget 9-1 late Wednesday.

Chuck Rees, the council representative from Kings Contrivance, who has called the budget a "disaster" for its lack of attention to debt reduction, voted against it.

Expenditures for fiscal 2000, which begins May 1, will be 6 percent higher than in the current budget. This is the first time in Columbia's 31-year history that the budget has included a projected surplus that is not being used to reduce the deficit, which has been retired.

The Columbia Association assessment rate will remain at $0.73 per $100 of assessed value.

Among the few surprises was a move by Rees to eliminate the proposed 5 percent decrease in rates for the package plan recreational facility memberships, which cost families $621 a year.

That passed 9-0, with council Chairwoman Norma Rose abstaining. Package plan rates will remain at the current level.

Rees' amendment did not affect the proposed 5 percent cut in outdoor pool memberships, which will cost a family $243, or $12 less, in the coming fiscal year.

In other action, the council voted to raise indoor tennis rates during "prime-time" hours from $7 an hour per person for doubles and $14 an hour per person for singles to $7.50 and $15, respectively. The council also approved an increase of $42 a year for individuals at the Hobbits Glen golf course. A two-member plan will cost $75 more a year.

The resident admission fee at the Skateboard Park at the Harper's Choice Village Center, scheduled to open in the spring, will drop from $4.50 to $2.25, and the cost of an annual resident pass will decrease from $100 to $75.

An amendment proposed by Rose to set aside and impound $97,000 from the villages' community grants for covenant enforcement was defeated 8-2.

"I just think it causes more animosity [with the village boards] than it's worth at this point," said Cecilia Januszkiewicz, the Columbia Council representative from Long Reach.

Also included in the budget is $150,000 for a new parking lot at the Columbia Ice Rink in Oakland Mills; $103,000 for the replacement of five tot lots in Long Reach, Kings Contrivance and Dorsey's Search; $90,000 for an electric Zamboni; and $85,000 for sand replacement in the bunkers at Hobbits Glen.

After trimming more than $350,000 from the proposed capital budget, the council agreed to spend $7.2 million on capital projects. The council cut about $78,000 from the proposed operating budget, which was approved at $40.9 million.

The council also directed that a long-term plan be developed in the final two months of the council session for the Horse Center, golf courses, Sister City exchange program and village employee benefits.

The final vote of the night, which came shortly after 11: 30, brought congratulations -- and sighs of relief -- from council members and staff.

"It's not even midnight," boasted David W. Berson, vice chairman of the council and chairman of the council's budget committee. "Thank you all."

Pub Date: 2/26/99

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