To the editor:
In 2006, Austin Community College put forward a petition to annex the SMCISD for junior college purposes. The word “tax” never appeared on the petition or the proposed election ballot, although the intention was to annex the SMCISD into ACC’s taxing district. At that time, opponents to the annexation exposed ACC’s certification of its blatantly fraudulent petition that contained nearly 900 questionable signatures, forcing ACC to cancel its scheduled election. As a result of those efforts, SMCISD residents have had a tax savings in excess of $10.5 million for the period from 2007 through 2010 at no apparent adverse effect on ACC, which offers classes at San Marcos CISD facilities and reports a current enrollment of 729 area students.
Contrary to emails and statements by ACC petition advocates, the ACC petition is not about “bringing ACC to San Marcos.” ACC has been holding classes in SMCISD facilities and classrooms for at least the last ten years. ACC’s current offerings include day classes at one of the old high school buildings and night classes at the new high school, where ACC also has an office. ACC courses are also available over the Internet.
For a number of years, ACC has had the exclusive right to provide junior college services for Hays and Caldwell Counties and, in about 2005, it acquired the exclusive right to provide junior college services for the entire SMCISD, including a portion of Guadalupe County.
The ACC petition is not about ACC being able to provide equivalent services to SMCISD as an out-of-district facility (out of the taxing district), as it could through being an in-district facility. Although the current law prevents ACC from building and/or owning its own facility in SMCISD, unless it is a part of their taxing district, the law does not prevent ACC from developing a full service, out-of-district facility within SMCISD, by leasing an existing building or buildings in a like manner as Blinn Junior College at College Station, which serves as many as 10,000 Texas A&M students, who pay out-of-district tuition due to College Station being outside the Blinn taxing district. According to ACC’s president, ACC has optioned to lease, rather than own, the new Round Rock facility (an in-district facility) from a separate, non-profit, owner- builder entity, in order to avoid incurring bonded indebtedness for the cost of the facility. The only tangible and non-speculative economic benefit resulting from annexation whereby SMCISD would become part of ACC’s taxing district would be the reduced, in-district tuition to resident students (including Texas State students) during the period they are enrolled in classes at ACC.
Under ACC’s proposed development plan, it would require 24-30 months to complete construction of Phase I in order to serve 700 students (29 less than currently served at SMCISD facilities). The time frame and cost for leasing and converting an existing structure, such as the Springtown Mall or the soon-to-be-vacated Hays County Justice Center, would be considerably less.
What the ACC petition is really about is tax money, power, control, and priorities.
Tax money: Annexation of SMCISD by ACC would result in establishing a new taxing authority and additional taxes on residences (subject to homestead, etc. exemptions), business real estate (including rental property), and business equipment and inventory. Based on ACC’s current tax rate and the net taxable property value for 2009 (furnished by the Central Appraisal District), ACC, as a separate and additional taxing authority, would collect approximately $3 million dollars in taxes per year from SMCISD property owners, which would be forwarded to ACC in Austin and be subject to the sole control of their Austin-elected board of directors. The amount of the annual tax could increase, based on either an increase in the tax rate voted by the ACC board of directors or by increase in the net taxable property value for SMCISD taxable properties.
This additional tax burden would necessarily result in an increased cost of living for all SMCISD residents, including Texas State residents, and an increased cost of doing business for all businesses owning or leasing taxable property within the SMCISD. Rents are usually adjusted based on increases in property taxes, which are passed on by landlord/owners to their tenants. Therefore, residential renters, including all Texas State residential renters, would necessarily incur an increased rental expense during their period of residency in San Marcos. Only those Texas State students who would be entitled to ACC in-district tuition would receive the reduced tuition offset during the period they are enrolled at ACC, but they would pay increased rentals for the entire period they reside in SMCISD.
Power and control: SMCISD voter approval of the annexation of SMCISD into the ACC taxing district would change what is now a partnership between ACC and SMCISD into a virtual ACC dictatorship. The legal consequence of annexation by ACC is that SMCISD residents would be subject to a non-revocable legal obligation during the existence of ACC to annually provide millions of dollars in tax payments to ACC, while assuming joint liability for ACC’s multi-millions in bonded indebtedness, without any recourse by SMCISD residents in connection with ACC’s use of the funds, increases in tax rate or tuition rates, or failure to meet their representations. This extremely one-sided legal obligation would result in ACC having excessive power and control over SMCISD residents in connection with the ACC tax. No attorney, who wants to keep his law license, would advise a client to enter into such a one-sided, no-recourse legal obligation.
Priorities: SMCISD’s priorities are not ACC’s priorities, and vice versa. A key priority of SMCISD is to reduce the drop-out rate and produce more and better-qualified graduates to compete in four-year institutions. Our public schools do not have the responsibility of arranging for their graduates’ higher education.
ACC’s priorities, as published in their 2002-2005 Master Plan, include increasing the ACC tax rate, obtaining approval of additional general obligation bonds, and developing strategies that encourage out-of-district ISDs to pursue annexation, in order to increase its tax base.
ACC’s annexation of SMCISD as part of its taxing authority, consistent with its priority to increase its tax base, would result in the extraction of $3 million dollars (or more) per year from the potential SMCISD tax pool, and is clearly detrimental to and in conflict with SMCISD priorities for funding for teacher and staff salaries and expanded programs and facilities, consistent with SMCISD’s key priority to reduce the drop-out rate and produce more and better-qualified graduates.
If SMCISD residents are called upon to make additional contributions for education, either through taxes or otherwise, the beneficiaries of such contributions should be the SMCISD schools and SMCISD children, and not ACC. SMCISD residents are presently contributing, and should continue to contribute, to the San Marcos Education Foundation, which was created to provide assistance to and to generate financial support for the SMCISD.
In summary, the opponents of the ACC petition are not opposing ACC expanding its services to San Marcos and Texas State students, which ACC is legally capable of doing without bringing SMCISD into its taxing district. However, based on the combined negative effects of (1) annually extracting $3 million dollars or more from the SMCISD economy to ACC in Austin, (2) the increased cost of living for all SMCISD residents (including modest income residents who are already economically stressed) and the increased cost of doing business for all SMCISD businesses, (3) the resulting, one-sided, no-recourse, legal obligation of SMCISD residents under the control of ACC’s taxing district, and (4) the subordination of SMCISD priorities to ACC priorities, it is clear to the opponents that the proposed ACC annexation is not in the best interest of SMCISD residents and cannot be justified by the minimal economic benefit of reduced tuition for resident in-district students, without regard to their financial need, and/or any speculative and unproven benefit to economic development for the community.