Covenant inspections OK'd as panel approves budget; Columbia's membership, pool fees up by 3 percent


The Columbia Council has passed a $49.3 million spending package for the next fiscal year that includes money for stepped-up covenant enforcement, possible salary increases for Columbia Association staff and acres of additional open space in River Hill.

The residential and commercial assessment -- the city's equivalent of a property tax -- will remain at 73 cents per $100 of assessed value. Most resident membership rates, such as Package Plan, will increase 3 percent, as will the rates for outdoor pools.

After protracted debate Wednesday, the council voted 6-4 to appropriate $35,000 for three part-time covenant advisers for a pilot inspection program in three of Columbia's older villages. The program will provide for "proactive" inspections of properties in Harper's Choice, Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake to address what council members, village officials and residents have identified as a top priority.

The council also approved nearly $350,000 for pathways, tot lots and other open space amenities in River Hill; $86,000 for a second staff attorney; $50,000 for a Columbia-wide pond study; and $25,000 for a review of the Columbia Association's aquatics facilities and programs.

The 10-member council impounded $109,000 in capital funds for the Columbia Horse Center pending the outcome of an outside review of the facility. The approved budget includes $25,000 for that review. A $341,000 expenditure for possible full-time association staff salary increases was frozen pending the outcome of a compensation study being conducted by outside consultants.

A one-time $100,000 expenditure for the Howard County school system -- to help address academic and equity problems at some of Columbia's older schools -- was removed by unanimous vote.

The operating budget for fiscal year 2001, which begins May 1, includes $45.4 million in income and $44.2 million in expenses. The capital budget was approved at $5.1 million.

Among its highlights:

$382,000 for pathway replacement throughout Columbia.

$300,000 for repair of the Lake Elkhorn dam.

$268,000 for improvements to the Columbia Ice Rink.

$240,000 for the restoration of Pushcart Pond in Oakland Mills.

$172,000 for the outdoor pools.

$150,000 for replacement of tot lots.

The approved budget, which also includes a $1.2 million surplus, represents a negligible increase from the current year's spending.

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