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. HankinsEmail | Print