The vice chairman of a new advisory committee on the Columbia Horse Center said last night he hopes the financially beleaguered facility can forget its history and start over with a "clean slate."
"I think it's important to move forward with a positive outlook," said Dan Bednarik, who was elected vice chairman of the Columbia Association Horse Center Advisory Committee at the group's inaugural meeting last night. "It would be nice to try to establish a clean slate here and at least give it the best shot we can."
Bednarik's comments were in response to a series in The Sun this week that detailed years of poor management and financial losses at the horse center. The facility, which is used by less than 1 percent of Columbia residents, has lost an estimated $1.5 million since 1986, including more than $350,000 over the past three fiscal years.
Rob Goldman, vice president of the Columbia Association's sport and fitness division and a nonvoting member of the advisory panel, told members that "things are moving in a very positive manner."
Goldman said he plans to report at the Columbia Council meeting tomorrow's that the center surpassed its budget goals for the first quarter of this fiscal year, and is on track to end the year ahead of projections.
"At this point, we are more than achieving the plan that we put forward to the council," he said.
This year, Goldman devised a 10-year plan for the center under which it would break even in six years and nearly double its users from 600 to 1,115.
The 10-member advisory committee, which will meet quarterly, was created after the Columbia Council debated the center's fate in the spring. The committee is charged with reviewing policies, programs and expenditures at the facility, and acting as a liaison among Columbia Association staff, horse center users and the Columbia Council, the Columbia Association's governing body.
Kaye McCally, the center's general manager who also serves as a nonvoting member of the advisory committee, said she will request $100,000 from the council for fiscal year 2001, which will begin May 1.
The amount being sought includes $30,000 for horses, $15,000 for new fencing, $30,000 for a tractor, $15,000 for new paddocks and $10,000 for new jumps.
The Columbia Association also is looking into the cost of replacing the roofs on the center's two barns, which could cost as much as $40,000.
In interviews this week, several advisory committee members expressed different visions for the horse center, which opened under Columbia Association management in 1974. Some felt it should support itself financially. Others believed the service it provides the community outweighs the subsidy it receives from the association.
"I think the service is more important than whether it makes money or breaks even," said Bob Ruiz, whose daughter boards a horse and takes lessons at the center. "The Columbia Association is providing a very large service to the horse people in the area."
The association subsidizes all but five of its dozens of facilities and programs. In the case of the horse center, nearly 60 percent of users do not live in Columbia.
Advisory committee members said the center must increase its visibility in the community through increased marketing.