A model of a proposed Austin Community College campus in San Marcos, presented at the kick-off for the San Marcos ACCess petition drive in February. File photo.
By SEAN BATURA
San Marcos CISD residents are one step closer to a November vote that would determine if they will bring an Austin Community College (ACC) campus with reduced tuition to the city in exchange for adding 9.46 cents to the ad valorem tax rate.
Members of San Marcos ACCess now believe they have collected the required number of signatures to put the question on the ballot, though one of the group’s co-chairs said that job will not be done until Hays County Elections Administrator Joyce Cowan certifies the signatures.
“We had about 1,500 signatures at the beginning of this month, and just here in the month of May, we got that last, about 1,000 — so we’re looking at about 2,400 right now,” said San Marcos ACCess co-Chair Miguel Arredondo.
Arredondo said ACC must certify at least 2,200 signatures — five percent of registered voters living within San Marcos CISD — in order to put the matter of an ACC campus to a vote in November. Arredondo said Cowan may make an announcement regarding the petition certification “within the next couple weeks.”
If Cowan validates enough petition signatures, the ACC Board of Trustees would have until June 11 under state law to certify San Marcos CISD for a Nov. 2 annexation vote.
Tuition rates for ACC students living in the newly-annexed district area would be $42 per credit hour, compared to the out-of-district rate of $150 per credit hour, starting in Fall 2010. San Marcos CISD residents would pay the out-of-district rate at an ACC campus in Hays CISD if the Hays district annexes ACC in November and the San Marcos district does not. In February, ACC District President Steven B. Kinslow said an ACC campus in San Marcos CISD should be open in 2014 if those voters approve annexation.
Arredondo said San Marcos ACCess obtained the final balance of signatures in “one final push” with the help of the volunteers from San Marcos CISD and the San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce Education Committee, which, he said, block-walked in support of the petition.
Bastrop ISD and Hays CISD have submitted the necessary signatures on ACC annexation vote petitions, certified by the ACC board. ACC will go on the November ballot in those jurisdictions. As of early May, Elgin and McDade ISDs, also vying for inclusion in the district, had not yet submitted signatures.
ACC originally gave San Marcos ACCess! until April 9 to submit the required number of petition signatures. ACC extended the deadline to May 3, then to June 11. Officials at ACC and San Marcos ACCess have said the shifting deadlines can be attributed to multiple ACC annexation efforts and the San Marcos petition drive’s late start (it began in late February). ACC and San Marcos ACCess officials have said the deadlines, except for the June 11 date, are more appropriately called “guidelines.”
The minimum number of required petition signatures also changed during the last three months from 1,800 to 2,000, then to 2,200, which Arredondo attributed to changes in estimated numbers of Texas State students registered to vote in San Marcos CISD. Arredondo said the changes in required number of signatures did not pose significant obstacles to his group.
San Marcos ACCess could have circulated the petition as early as Nov. 16, though it delayed the drive to more thoroughly prepare and avoid contaminating the effort with the aura of the 2006 ACC annexation drive. The 2006 effort was aborted after the firm hired to collect petition signatures was discovered to have committed signature fraud. San Marcos ACCess did not opt to use a third party to collect signatures for the present drive.
Said Arredondo, “The things that happened in the past, keeping that into consideration, we really need to make sure that everyone in the community knows what San Marcos is getting into, and the people who are against it need to have all the information, so if they still don’t support it — as long as they have all the information and they still don’t agree with us, then that’s fine with us, too. For the people who are for it, we want them to know everything. People who are against it, we want them to have all the information that they can have.”
Arredondo said he is treasurer of the San Marcos ACCess political action committee (PAC).
“As of right now, we have about $1,200, and that’s small donations from a couple of community members,” Arredondo said. “And I know, through the signature process, we actually had discussed that we weren’t going to have a political action committee, and after the overwhelming response from going door-to-door and having people asking us whether or not we can accept money and us turning so many people down, we actually formed it. There’s been a couple of donations that have been verbally made, and they’re just waiting for the petition to get certified to actually donate.”
If the petition signatures are certified, Arredondo said his group will probably mail information regarding the implications of ACC annexation to everyone who signed the petition, participate in ACC-sponsored public forums, run articles in local news publications in support of ACC annexation, and conduct block walking for the cause.
“Even though the signature thing’s out of the way, now we have to still go door-to-door and get the votes out for November,” Arredondo said.
Families living in ACC’s boundaries receive free access to the district’s Early College Start Program, which allows high school students to earn up to one-year of transferable college credit before entering institutions of higher learning. Senior citizens and disabled property owners in the proposed annexation zone would receive a $105,000 tax exemption and a $5,000 homestead exemption.
ACC has capped its maintenance and operation (M&O) tax rate at nine cents, plus 0.46 cents per $100 taxable valuation to retire facilities bonds. Voter approval is required before a change in ACC’s tax rate.
ACC proposed to build a campus that could expand to eight buildings on the east side of the city, near San Marcos High School, and dedicate college counselors for schools in San Marcos CISD. Patterson said local land developer Randall Morris donated 38 acres for the proposed San Marcos ACC campus off SH 123, and ACC is in negotiations to purchase adjacent property to construct a 476,000-square-foot campus building.Email | Print