Columbia's villages submit budgetary wish lists to CA


Dorsey's Search Village Center could use a storage shed. Town Center would like security cameras at Historic Oakland. And a hot tub at a Kings Contrivance pool would sure heat things up.

The deadline for Columbia's 10 villages to submit their wish lists came yesterday. Now they are hoping the Columbia Association is in a giving mood.

As the association's board of directors makes final its budget for fiscal 2006 in the coming months, the villages hope to add some of their wish-list projects. The board will start the bulk of its budget work next month, and the budget will be implemented May 1 next year.

Most villages are seeking help with the increasing cost of workers' compensation insurance.

Villages expect the cost to rise in fiscal 2006, when the insurance agency, Injured Workers' Insurance Fund, is to reclassify many village center staffers as property managers rather than clerical/office workers, according to village leaders.

"Our insurance is going to triple in one year," said Jeff Marcus, chairman of the Dorsey's Search Village Board. Other villages project cost increases to more than double.

"I think all the villages are going to be asking for help," Marcus said.

Long Reach village, however, pleaded in its wish-list letter for the dredging of Jackson Pond. Village leaders said they have tried in vain the past two budget cycles to obtain funding.

In recent months, numerous Long Reach residents have testified passionately before the Columbia Association board in favor of the project.

"If CA doesn't do something in the next few years, we're not going to have a pond anymore," said Bridget Magune, a Long Reach Village Board member. "All you'll have is swamp and a bunch of islands."

So much sediment has accumulated that the pond in some places is 6 inches deep, Magune said.

The dredging problem is not a new one, showing up almost perennially in villages' budget requests. Columbia's 80 ponds and three lakes need dredging periodically, said Chick Rhodehamel, who manages Columbia's open space, because sediment that is carried by rain builds up over time.

The cost of such dredging projects, as well as other requested community projects, has sparked discussions among association board members about establishing a nonprofit charitable group that could help fund community projects in Columbia.

"The advantage is that we could attract tax-deductible donations," said Tom O'Connor, a Columbia Association board member representing Dorsey's Search. "We could qualify for different types of grants and even get funding from environmental groups for dredging projects."

The tentative name for the charitable group is Friends of the Columbia Association, and the board is hammering out the final details of the group's charter and considering potential members for the group's board of directors.

In the 1980s, the Columbia Association tried to transform itself into a charitable group, which would have made the annual dues paid by Columbia property owners tax deductible.

But the Internal Revenue Service denied the application. This time, because it is creating a separate group, the board does not anticipate a problem, O'Connor said.

Even without the charitable group, the association is in good financial health, said Cabell Greenwood, a board member representing River Hill.

"We have a high bond rating; our revenue from annual charges is still increasing," Greenwood said. "CA's financial health right now is still outstanding."

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