The Texas State campus as seen last week from a B-24J. Photo by Sean Wardwell.
By SEAN BATURA
One doesn’t go long in San Marcos without hearing a common complaint in the local town vs. gown fabric: Every time Texas State expands, it takes more land off the city’s property tax rolls, since the university’s property isn’t taxable.
The growth of Texas State’s main campus from 11 acres in 1899 to more than 468 acres today has fueled worries, especially in recent years, that the university grows only at economic cost to the city, Hays County and the San Marcos CISD. Eyebrows are raised about a university master plan showing the south porch of campus sweeping downhill and approaching Hutchison Street, taking the northern edge of downtown.
However, the university says it has no intention of expanding beyond its present general boundaries, which basically consist of University Drive on the east and south, Sessom Drive on the north and RR 12 on the west.
Maybe as recently as two decades ago, when the city and the university both were much smaller than they are today, the growth of neither much conflicted with the other. But now, when an addition to the university is a subtraction from the local tax rolls, the difference can hardly escape notice.
For example, the university has acquired about 131 acres through 12 separate land deals in the last five years, including its most recent buy of the 4.14 acre Hidden Village apartment complex from KAL Pacific, LLC in 2008. The Hidden Village property was appraised at $2,493,440, which means the city lost about $13,220 in annual property taxes out of the deal, while Hay County was short approximately $11,405 and San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District lost about $34,160. The university plans to replace Hidden Village with parking spaces to accommodate the expansion of Bobcat Stadium.
“I think the university, Hays County, San Marcos CISD — all entities who carry property off the tax (rolls) — contribute significantly to economic development in San Marcos through employment, through their payroll, (and) through the services they require to do business,” said Kim Porterfield, who occupies a full-blooded position in the matter. Porterfield not only is a San Marcos City Councilmember, but she’s also the university’s director of community relations.
Quoting Porterfield, “So, I think you have to look at the whole picture, you know?”
Porterfield said San Marcos needs “to be aware of and monitor” the university’s land acquisition habits, as the city’s infrastructure cannot support “a whole lot of (university) growth.” However, Porterfield said, she sees no sign that school administrators are looking to aggressively expand the university’s territory. Porterfield said she remembers when River House, where she has her university office, used to be a VFW building.
Last year, Texas State’s property tax-exempt status resulted in about $119,543 and $105,608 in lost revenues to San Marcos and Hays County, respectively. San Marcos took in $4,342,478 last year in property taxes, which amounted to 12.57 percent of its total revenue. Hays County brought in $26,896,361 in property taxes last year — 57 percent of its general fund revenue.
The Introduction to Texas State University’s Campus Master Plan 2006-2015 states that the university will endeavor to maintain its primary boundaries of University Drive, Ranch Road 12 and Sessom Drive.
“The Campus Master Plan and facilities shall accommodate a future student body of no greater than 30,000 students on the San Marcos campus unless there is a fundamental infrastructure change in San Marcos,” the Introduction states.
Texas State announced a record spring enrollment this year of 27,509, up 3.9 percent from a year earlier.A stated goal of the Campus Master Plan is to “reverse the trend of creating impervious surfaces and actively work towards the reduction of existing impervious surfaces on the campus.”
According to the document, 40 percent of the campus is impervious surface, which creates “a host of problems for the City of San Marcos.” The Master Plan calls for a “gray to green” initiative, which entails large amounts of surface parking spaces giving way to trees and other natural vegetation. However, the number of parking spaces will remain constant, with new parking garages at the east and west edges of campus taking up the slack. A “pay and park” garage will be built near University Drive and North Edward Gary Street for students and city residents.
“Right now our goal is to buy any property that’s within our university boundaries,” said Associate Vice President for Finance and Support Services Nancy Nusbaum, who is also chair of the Campus Master Plan Steering Committee.
Nusbaum said the university is trying to buy two private homes that lie within the boundaries of Texas State University. She said the owner of one of the homes is currently unwilling to sell. Both homes are being rented to students. Windgate Condominiums also lies within the borders of Texas State University, though Nusbaum said the university is not trying to buy the property at this time, “but could eventually, maybe someday.”
Nusbaum said in the interests of keeping university land contiguous, the school is negotiating an easement with the City of San Marcos near Hidden Village and trying to work out a deal with the San Marcos Public Housing Authority “for a small piece (of land) to connect (Hidden Village). Because we’re not exactly adjacent (to it).”
The university also claims 4,922 off-site acres of ranch land and a recreational camp, and several off-campus sites including a print shop, mail services location, anthropology center and a warehouse. Of the 227 instances in which Texas State acquired land, 36 deals involved more than an acre of property. Though the university has bought property outside of its boundaries before, Nusbaum said there are no plans to buy more.
“If something comes up — we’ve been approached for different things, but we really don’t want to buy outside of our boundary if we can help it,” Nusbaum said. “It’s kind of a commitment to the city not to take any more off of the tax rolls than what’s necessary.”Email | Print