by BRAD ROLLINS
Annexing the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School district — and its $3.5 billion-plus tax base — is the top expansion priority for the Austin Community College District, president Stephen B. Kinslow told San Marcos business and education leaders on Thursday.
But San Marcos will benefit in ways that justify what he termed an investment in preparing a highly trained workforce capable of filling positions in technology, healthcare and technical companies that typify a progressive economic development policy, Kinslow said. He said after the meeting that he is not aware of a citizens group in operation collecting signatures to call an annexation election, but his comments seemed clearly aimed at restarting a dialogue that came to an abrupt stop when ACC trustees canceled an election marred by allegations of petition irregularities.
“People never want to talk about expansion of the tax base. I actually don’t mind. The reality is that [the college’s other goals’ aren’t going to happen without expanding the tax base,” Kinslow said at the San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Eggs & Issues breakfast.
Kinslow repeatedly referred to the Higher Education Coordinating Board’s landmark Closing the Gaps initiative that predicts economic ruin for Texas if the state does not seriously commit to expanding higher education access to minority, poor and first-in-family prospective college growers. Kinslow also frequently invoked a 2005 report from the state comptroller’s office that said the state enjoys $5.50 in economic return for every $1 spent in higher education. More than half of students in Texas institutes of higher learning are enrolled at community colleges, Kinslow said.
“The hallmark of a community college is to reach traditionally under-served populations,” Kinslow said. And later when questioners suggested that Texas State University is prepared to fill the city’s higher education needs, he said, “I think if you look at the population in San Marcos, look at your growth in minority populations, look at your growth in limited English-speaking populations. Those are populations that are not likely to go to Texas State University without first going into a community college, which by state law, has access programs. That’s what we do versus what four-year institutions do.”
Residents of school districts annexed into ACC’s taxing district would pay the college district’s property tax, currently set a total of 9.45 cents per $100 in property value. In exchange, residents would here would pay in-district tuition rates, currently set at $39 per semester credit hour, compared to out-of-district tuition, $110 per semester credit hour. Tax rate increases have to be approved by the community college district’s voters, Kinslow said.
During the question-and-answer period that followed Kinslow prepared presentation, several attendees posed pointed questions.
Former city council member Bill Taylor said the college district’s tax rate could conceivably rise as high as 50 cents per $100 in property value. He said, “I’m not a mathematician but, in my mind, if it’s at nine cents and you can go to 50 cents, that $200 tax bill goes up 500 percent and you have a potential for a $1,000 tax bill on that $160,000 house.”
Other business people said they see holes in the area’s workforce that need plugging including John Campsmith, general manager of Wide-Lite Corp., one of the city’s largest manufacturers.
“As I look back over the last few years, we have at times struggled to fill our factory with seasoned and/or capable technical people — in our assembly, our fabrication, in our welding, in the various aspects of our business. We see is it is a real need, especially for San Marcos. We have an opportunity here as a community to be a real manufacturing base and potentially bring up the overall income base for that entry level or that next-to entry level with skilled technical training.”