San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

February 21st, 2010
Look for deceit whenever ACC comes for your tax money

Local Government Watch: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS

The fictional character Chief Inspector Morse, after solving two murders in the television episode “Ghost in the Machine,” said, “There was a serpent even in the Garden of Eden.”  He was referring to lies and deceit used to cover up the murders. On an issue less dramatic than murder–the efforts of Austin Community College to expand its jurisdiction and tax base into the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District (SMCISD)–the same could be said.

Stephen Kinslow, the President of the Austin Community College district, has begun anew the effort to convince San Marcos area taxpayers that we should be willing to allow ACC to tax us so that residents from the SMCISD area can receive a lower tuition cost than is paid by out-of-district students. Currently, the in-district rate is $39 per semester hour. The out-of-district rate is $137 per semester hour. Valid signatures from 5% of the registered voters in the SMCISD are needed to call an election on joining ACC, about 1884 valid signatures.

ACC organized a petition drive over three years ago to get voter approval to expand the district in the SMCISD. That petition drive ended in a criminal investigation when it was discovered that some names on the petition had been forged. No one was ever charged or convicted for the forgeries. Reports indicated that hundreds of signatures were questionable. No one with ACC ever took responsibility for the forgeries on the annexation petition, but those forgeries were foisted on the public by someone on behalf of ACC. Kinslow will not tell us who did this dirty work for ACC.

In March 2009, Kinslow spoke to a San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce (SMACC) breakfast to kick off the latest expansion campaign. That campaign was delayed, but Kinslow revealed this week, at a meeting of the SMACC governmental affairs committee, that a new campaign has begun. Kinslow explained that the current tax rate limit is set at $0.0946 per $100 of property, which would calculate to about $142 for a home valued at $150,000. Kinslow explained in 2009 that the property tax rate could increase by law up to $0.50 per $100, or $750 for a $150,000 home.

According to Kinslow’s presentation in 2009, based on current tax valuations in the SMCISD, ACC would receive about $3 million in tax revenues if we became a part of the ACC district. Furthermore, it appears that both real property and personal property is subject to the taxing authority of ACC. Personal property includes such items as household furniture, motor vehicles, boats, business equipment, and business inventory.

Personal property taxes could easily increase ACC revenues in San Marcos to $4 million. At $3,648 per year in out-of-district ACC student tuition (based on two semesters of 12 hours of courses each semester), the taxes to be paid by SMCISD taxpayers would pay the tuition of 822 San Marcos residents at $3 million, and nearly 1100 students at the $4 million level. Yet, ACC has provided no evidence that there are even 800 to 1100 permanent San Marcos residents now attending ACC as full-time students. Permanent residents should mean people who graduated from SMCISD or who lived permanently in SMCISD and held a full-time job prior to enrollment in ACC.

In a June 8, 2009, letter to the San Marcos mayor and city council members, longtime local resident and attorney Andrew Gary noted that ACC will always be controlled by Austin voters because of the vast population differences between Austin and other outlying areas. He made several other points about what would happen if the SMCISD area becomes part of the ACC district–

1. Once the SMCISD becomes a part of the ACC district, it can never divorce itself from ACC.
2. SMCISD taxpayers will assume joint liability for the ACC district’s debt (which would apparently exceed $100 million by the time SMCISD joined ACC).
3. There is no realistic way to hold ACC accountable to the voters of SMCISD.
4. ACC will make no legally enforceable guarantees of service to SMCISD residents.
5. Any facilities owned or purchased by ACC in the San Marcos area will be exempt from taxation as public entities.

While it is difficult to find people opposed to education, there are many who rightly question the need for a community college taxing district in San Marcos. After all, we have a large state university that includes a technology department. According to Robert Habingreither, Interim Dean of the College of Science and a professor in the Department of Engineering Technology during the last ACC annexation effort, the Texas State University technology department is willing and able to meet the needs of any manufacturing operation that wants to locate in San Marcos.

Undergraduate degrees offered by Engineering Technology include
• Construction Engineering Technology
• Electrical Engineering Technology
• Environmental Engineering Technology
• Manufacturing Engineering Technology
• Mechanical Engineering Technology
• Industrial Technology (IT)-General
• Industrial Technology (IT)-Construction
• Industrial Technology (IT)-Manufacturing

Texas State University also has departments of Clinical Laboratory Science, Computer Information Systems, Computer Science, Health Administration, Health Information Management, Nursing, Physical Therapy, Occupational Education, and Radiation Therapy. These are all fields that provide training and education in areas identified by ACC President Kinslow as needed in the San Marcos area to attract businesses working in health care, manufacturing, computer sciences, and information systems.

With respect to his department’s willingness to meet the needs of manufacturers in San Marcos, Habingreither said earlier:  “We have a phenomenal manufacturing facility at the university and I’ve got thousands of hours of working with development folks and we stand ready to do that again. … we’re a resource in the state of Texas [for manufacturing-related work force development] and that includes anyone in our region that wants to take advantage of that.”

I support community colleges. My wife spent several years teaching at a community college and I have many friends and acquaintances who teach at community colleges and some who have served on their boards. My concern about ACC is that it needs San Marcos more than San Marcos needs it, but we are instantly at a disadvantage once we agree to become part of its district. We do not need another taxing authority over which we will have no control. It can take our money and saddle us with millions of dollars in debt for which we instantly will become jointly liable if the district is expanded into the SMCISD area.

If the San Marcos City Council and the SMACC want to promote low-cost college courses at ACC for San Marcos residents, it could establish a tuition subsidy program for those with low- ncomes who want to attend ACC. The city council already subsidizes housing purchases for certain relatively well-off employees of Texas State University, Central Texas Medical Center, and Seton Medical Center in Kyle. It could offer similar subsidies to SMCISD residents who can’t afford the out-of-district tuition to attend ACC. If our residents need ACC so much, this would be a way to prove its value for less money than the cost of becoming part of the ACC taxing district.

ACC already has the sole legal authority to offer community college classes in San Marcos. If the need here for its services is as great as Kinslow claims, it should demonstrate that it can and will meet that need before asking SMCISD taxpayers to give them $3 to $4 million in new taxes without giving those taxpayers any control over how that money is spent. When ACC proposes a tax increase, voters throughout the entire ACC district will decide whether to vote for or against the increase. The votes of San Marcos citizens will be dwarfed by Austin voters. San Marcos residents will have little control once the annexation occurs.

If Kinslow believes what he promises about the importance of ACC expanding its tax base into San Marcos, then why not demonstrate the validity of his pitch to San Marcos voters?  Let ACC spend the next five years working with Economic Development San Marcos to attract new businesses to San Marcos. Let ACC meet the needs of those businesses by training the work force the businesses require. Let ACC demonstrate that it can significantly contribute to providing living-wage jobs to our residents. Let ACC provide a full public explanation of the last forged annexation petition. Tiger Woods just made his public apology for his transgressions. It is long past time for ACC to do so. Woods, as a private figure, did not explain everything about his misdeeds, but ACC is a public entity and should be completely transparent if it expects public support.

Then let ACC come back to ask for the ability to tax SMCISD residents. If ACC has been transparent for five years and can show a positive track record demonstrated by actual achievements on behalf of San Marcos, it is likely that the taxpayers will approve paying extra taxes so that our residents can have ACC’s services at a lower cost. But as it stands now, Kinslow is merely a salesman puffing up San Marcos voters with unproven claims like a disreputable used car salesman who won’t show the potential buyer the Carfax report.

© Local Government Watch–San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins

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10 thoughts on “Look for deceit whenever ACC comes for your tax money

  1. Well written – I learned a new word – “FOIST” – thanks for that!

    I am all for educational opportunities. Our predicament is the relatively high property taxes in Texas, paid and felt by those who own taxable property. At this point (IMHO) it leaves little room for tolerance of increases, even for education.

    How many Texas State students will benefit from the lower tuition? How much ACC tax will the Texas State students pay?

    I too would like to see, hear, read a thorough explanation of the debacle of the last petition drive with forged signatures.

    Thanks for the editorial!

  2. Thanks Lamar – I recall that petition fiasco and was relieved they got caught before they got their hands in our pockets. They do need our money much more than we need their programs.

  3. What do you have when organized crime, organized religion, and organized labour get together? Government.

    It is amazing how often politicians claim they are doing something for the good of the people yet the outcome is anything but. ACC is like many other corporations (public and private) which supposedly operate for the public benefit.

    Long ago corporations were limited in their scope, the power, and the actions they could take. Now, corporations have the power to do pretty much what they wish.

    In order for any deal with ACC to legitimately address the needs and concerns of San Marcos residents why doesn’t ACC get with local leadership to draft a legally binding accord that (1) would allow SMISD taxpayers to revoke any relationship if ACC does not deliver as promised, (2) does not burden SMISD taxpayers with any and all prior debt, and (3) provides a stiff legal penalty if ACC engages in any chicanery against SMISD taxpayers?

    Odds are such a proposal would be rejected by ACC as unacceptable. Much like the auto maker that once decided it was more cost effective to settle any lawsuits that would arise from gas tanks exploding in rear-end collisions than to actually make the vehicle safe, a corporate entity (public or private) is designed to only see the bottom line which inevitably is MONEY.

  4. I’ll add to what Sphinx said and I will go one further. If they are coming to us, asking for money, in addition to the conditions outlined above, ACC should bring some programs to the table, which will help to significantly increase our graduation rates and/or the number of graduates who go on to college.

    For this kind of money, they need to be part of our community. A campus and reduced tuition is not enough (IMO). I agree that they need our money more than we need them, if all they are going to do is put a campus here. Still, the relationship could be mutually beneficial, with some work.

    With all of these money grabs (Target, Alamo Drafthouse, ACC), simply establishing a storefront here should not be enough to get our money. We should demand that these groups bring something more substantial to the table – outreach programs, corporate offices, something.

  5. Thanks Lamar and BIG Thank You to Andrew Gary. If the city thinks this is needed, let them set up a program to make up differance in the cost of going to ACC, BE MUCH CHEAPER than TAXING WITHOUT REPRESENTATION.

  6. I think the following from the Austin A-S earlier this month bears directly on the discussion of the value of joining the ACC taxing district.

    “STAT OF THE DAY (From the Austin A-S ‘Political Notes’)

    “Many students go to community colleges expecting to pick up some basic courses and transfer to two-year universities (Ed: I think he meant four-year, but perhaps he’s an ACC grad). But as Brian Thevenot writes in a very good Texas Tribune story, “the majority of students don’t transfer at all, and only 15 percent who start community college full-time go on to earn four-year degrees within six years, according to the latest available state data tracking full-time students over the long-term. Even fewer earn two-year degrees from two-year colleges: just 11 percent statewide. An additional 5 percent earned professional certificates in vocations that range from nursing to welding. So all told, just three out of 10 full-time community college students end up with any credential after six years. And that figure doesn’t include tens of thousands of part-time students — the majority at many campuses — who experts say are even less likely to finish.”

    Is it worth it for us taxpayers?

  7. Having gone page by page through the ACC petition some years ago and having found several forged signatures myself, I was disappointed though not surprised that only one piddling charge later dropped resulted from my efforts and efforts of many others. Though I believe joining Austin Community College does not make financial sense for us even today, I would dismiss any entreaties from ACC out of hand so long as any board member or officer remains from that recent era when trickery and dishonesty ruled.

  8. As a local property owner who has a 9 y.o. daughter, all I want to know is where do I sign an ACC petition? Anyone who thinks TX St is a substitute for a community college hasn’t paid tuition at the University lately. I’m sure Tx St and all connected to the school are opposed to ACC annexation, why lose all that money from the locals, after they screw us every other way they can?

  9. brete needs to move to Austin/Roundrock area and he would have no need to look for a petition, he could just sign checks to acc. His 9 y.o. would then probably want to come back to TX ST.

  10. I went to Tx St as recently as last fall. $1000 for a 4 hour Spanish course. And it will be worse when the legislature gets done with the next budget. After Perry and Craddick opened the Pandora’s box of tuition deregulation, state universities aren’t the deal they were in the good old days. Access to affordable higher education in San Marcos should be a priority to anyone who is planning on staying here long term.

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