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Association offers 2009, 2010 budgets

The Baltimore Sun

A new headquarters building, salary increases of 12.3 percent and significant facility upgrades are among the provisions in budgets proposed by the Columbia Association for the coming two fiscal years.

Members of the public will have the chance to comment on the proposals at a public hearing Jan. 23.

At a forum last week, Columbia Association officials summarized key elements of the proposed budget and took questions from the community.

The budgets offered for fiscal years 2009 and 2010 "reflect the ongoing efforts of the Columbia Association to fulfill its mission of enhancing the quality of life for people living or working in Columbia," said Maggie J. Brown, president of the association.

The budgeted income for 2009 is $59.5 million, with budgeted expenses of $56.4 million. Budgeted income for 2010 is $61.6 million, with budgeted expenses of $57.74 million, according to Columbia Association documents. The proposed capital budget is $11.5 million for fiscal 2009 and $15.4 million for 2010.

Fiscal 2009 proposals

Key elements of the 2009 budgets include:

$925,000 for the creation and implementation of a comprehensive watershed-quality program.

$200,000 to complete installation of security equipment at the association's community buildings and facilities.

$400,000 for interior renovations to Owen Brown Community Center.

$625,000 in the proposed capital budget for restoration and replacement of about 20,000 feet of pathways.

The proposed conditional 2010 budget calls for $2.7 million in Columbiawide water-quality projects that include dredging the upper part of Wilde Lake.

Alex Hekimian, president of the Alliance for a Better Columbia, challenged the inclusion of a $3.6 million line item for a two-story, 30,000-square-foot headquarters building that is expected to cost $11 million.

"I don't think that's come before the public," he said at the forum. "Isn't it presumptuous or even premature to put that in the budget without any public comment?"

Evan Coren, a board member from Kings Contrivance, said: "We decided to put it in as a placeholder. No decision has been made on leasing or location."

Cynthia Coyle, a board member from Harper's Choice, said the item had not been included lightly.

"Much discussion went into it," she said. "We tried to decide whether we should or should not put that placeholder in. We didn't want to rush it. We wanted to hear from GGP."

General Growth Properties Inc., which controls most of downtown Columbia's real estate, is expected to reveal soon a meeting schedule to discuss a plan for downtown development.

The developer will create a master plan proposal and request an amendment to the county's General Plan and then petition for necessary amendments to zoning regulations. Proposed amendments then will be reviewed by the public and presented to the Planning Board and County Council for action.

"I think it was the right thing to do," Coyle said. "It was not an easy decision."

Hekimian told Columbia Association board members that he was troubled by the idea of using placeholders in the budget process.

"I think the whole concept of placeholder is a lazy way of putting something in the budget and hoping to get it through," he said. "There is more than one example of placeholding. I think this is bad. I think it should be eliminated."

Coren assured the audience: "It will be done in public, and it will be a thorough discussion."

The Columbia Association's lease for 20,000 square feet on the first and second floors of the Wincopin Circle building extends through August 2010, according to Brown. The association board would like to extend that for three years, she said.

The association owns property adjacent to Toby's Dinner Theatre and Little Patuxent Parkway, by Merriweather Post Pavilion, that is the proposed site of the new headquarters, Brown said.

There has been some consideration of making the new building multipurpose rather than strictly administrative, Brown said.

"Right now, the options are open," she said. "The only thing that's firm is that the Columbia Association should be in downtown."

In an interview, Hekimian also questioned the proposed 12.3 percent salary increase during what he called "recessionary times."

"How can they justify this?" he asked.

Meetings

The budget process includes these meetings:

A public hearing Jan. 23 at Columbia Association headquarters at which village community associations and advisory groups can speak for up to five minutes and individuals for up to three minutes each.

Board work sessions Jan. 31, Feb. 6 and Feb. 14 (if necessary) that the public is allowed to attend.

Planning and Strategy Committee meeting Feb. 14 to formulate its recommendation for the board.

On Feb. 27, a final discussion by the board and a vote to approve the fiscal 2009 budget and to conditionally approve the fiscal 2010 budget.

If additional time is needed, the final discussion and vote could be continued and take place Feb. 28.

june.arney@baltsun.com

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