Edited transcript of a discussion on Thursday between San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce members and Stephen B. Kinslow, the Austin Community College district president:
former interim city manager
Once you’re in that ACC tax district you can never get out?
ACC district president
That’s right. Once you’re in, you’re in a marriage forever.
What’s your tax rate?
Our M&O tax rate is currently capped at 9 cents. [The district also levies a .45 cent debt maintenance tax]. We were initially authorized by voters to be capped at 5 cents. We got that increased in 2003 to 9 cents. Community colleges are authorized to go all the way up to 50 cents, I think, but there is no history of us doing that.
real estate investor
So it does increase from time to time?
Colleges are not any different from individuals or individual businesses. Inflation goes up and the cost of doing business changes over time. What we’ve been successful at — because we’ve expanded our tax boundaries — we haven’t really been in the situation of having to look at increasing that [tax rate]. And if you look at history of community colleges across the state, there are very few of them that have a high tax rate. Community colleges are a pretty good bargain.
insurance agent and former city council member
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. My second point is: I came to listen to how this is going to stimulate the economy and development and I heard a whole lot of touting why we need ACC here and very little about economic development. We already have a 30,000 student campus in San Marcos and I think it is quite capable of serving and fueling our economic development. There may be more people here that would want to speak to that who are more qualified than me.
The first point I would make again is to look at what is reality versus what you would think would happen. I don’t think theres any history to demonstrate any excessive cost from any community college. [You can look] at the fact that ACC is one of the few community colleges that actually has provided that only the voters could change the cap. In regard to economic development, the reason why your city council passed the motion that they passed is because there are unique but complementary goals between two year colleges and four year institutions.
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. The longer-term view is economic development, prosperity for community, the long-range picture of how you expand that menu of choice to better align with where your population growth is. When communities — and I think that’s why your city council took the action that they did — when you start looking at what are the industries you are trying to attract to this part of Central Texas, the first thing people ask is what is the quality of the work pipeline and where do people get their training. And again the statistics are very clear that more than half of everybody starts at a community college — they don’t start at four-year institutions for a variety of reasons. But, again, we have very complementary relationships with our four-year partners so its not a competition at all.
What’s the ACC enrollment in our area?
Right now you’ve got about 1,900 folks from San Marcos who are taking ACC courses — about 1,265 of them this semester are at your centers or through early college start at your high school — about 720 folks this semester are driving to Austin and going to one of our other campuses.
I guess you could calculate based on our taxable properties what the revenue string will be on annexing us.
Right now today your property values for San Marcos Consolidated school district are about $3.5 billion and that would equate to about upward of $3 million in tax revenues to Austin Community College.
There are projections that are already done about building a campus where that revenue from your taxes would pay for the construction of your campus. People would frequently look at that and say “I don’t want my tax dollars going to Austin” and actually what happens in a regional system is that everybody is contributing to that and certainly in those initial years of San Marcos’ investment will be paying for your campus and other members of the regional cc district will be helping you do that.
Do you already know what your priorities are as far as specific job training programs
What we’ll do is work very closely with your city council and your chamber, but clearly if you look at Texas labor market data, you see an emphasis right now, on high tech — it’s coming back — your informations systems and computer science, gaming is one of the fastest growing and one of the targeted industries in Texas. There will be some kind of possibility of allied health — we’ll have to look at that. We’re also, all of us I think, are aware of federal stimulus dollars and the emphasis on green programs and I think you’ll see a growth in those and I think you’d be in on the ground floor of being able to provide for some of those programs.
You know we have malls in San Marcos right now and these malls are the fifth largest generator of [retail] revenue in the United States. We have a Super Target that just opened, the Super Penney’s that just opened, the Super Bealls is going to open. We have a new CVS and a new Wal-Greens. We’re getting an automobile museum and there are many other projects coming about. They’re going to promote employment and revenue and such. This was all done without the benefit of ACC and I can see the only benefit you will be to San Marcos is to remove property from the tax rolls and also impose a tax on us too. And it’s something over which we’ll have no control because that tax revenue is going to be spent by people in Austin and not San Marcos. And this terrifies me.
Well, you know, I guess I’m not — well I won’t say that — my initial thought is, I guess with any new initiative we can sit around and forecast all of the what-ifs. I think it’s important to explore all of the possibilities but I guess what I think is more important is getting data that either affirms what your fears are or perhaps changes them.
… I would encourage those of you who are sitting there thinking ‘absolutely no tax for any reason,’ to uncross your arms — nobody’s going to impose anything on you, that’s why we’re going through this process. But the folks who have looked at these issues for the longest and more deeply in your community feel very differently than you do. And there’s some good reason for that and you may want to talk to them.
Check out some of those things I told you today. Community colleges do help stimulate economic development, they do help stem the rising costs of social services, and they are important part of growing a larger population base of people who are paying more. So if you’re sitting here thinking ‘I pay too many taxes and not enough other people pay their fair share’ … We’re your best hope of changing that equation.
Most of the programs you mentioned are retail-related or service-related jobs, jobs that don’t pay very much. I think you have to ask yourself, while those are good in terms of bringing economic development to your community, for the long term what do they really contribute in terms of creating the kinds of jobs that you most want to have? In some cases, as with our personal lives, you have to invest a little to get a little back. You’ll have to decide for yourself when that time comes what is the appropriate position.
General Manager, Wide-Lite Corp.
As a manufacturer here in Central Texas, like some other large companies moving to Texas to build a manufacturing base, 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 looked at technical schools, looked at the University of Texas, looked at all the higher education places to fill our organization with skilled and young new talent for our marketing, for our engineering, for our customer service, etc. What 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. That’s where with this community the benefit, the greatest benefit would be from that kind of focus with a program with ACC.
former Texas State regent, city council member
Ray, you’d mentioned the San Marcos Factory Shops which obviously are a major attraction for San Marcos and a direct financial benefit. And as a consultant to the San Marcos factory outlets when they first came here, I remember, and most people have forgotten, that there was organized opposition to the factory shops coming here. [People said] that short-term tax abatement was a subsidy. People were looking at the short-term instead of the longterm. And in the longterm now we see what the the factory shops have done for the city of San Marcos. So I think it’s certainly good to look at short-term things but factory shops to me are a good example of something that if we didn’t have them, in the longterm, where would the city revenue be without them?
Change is inevitable and change is frightening.
Texas State associate Science dean, former San Marcos mayor
I have one comment I’d like to make. I’d like to correct this gentleman from Wide-Lite. We have a phenomenal manufacturing facility at the university and I’ve got thousand of hours of working with development folks and we stand ready to do that again. Any manufacturing-related work force development, unless I am directed otherwise by my bosses, who both happen to be here right now, we’re a resource in the state of Texas and that includes anyone in our region that wants to take advantage of that.
I appreciate the open minds and I appreciate the questions and comments.
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