EDITOR’S NOTE: The Mercury has invited both advocates and opponents of San Marcos CISD’s annexation into the Austin Community College taxing district to write commentary in support of their views ahead of the Nov. 2 ballot measure. This is the first in a series by Lamar Hankins, a member of Citizens for Responsible Education, a group opposing the annexation. For an opposing viewpoint, see Albert Sierra’s column here.
Local Government Watch – Austin Community College District
COMMENTARY by LAMAR W. HANKINS
Four years ago when Austin Community College (ACC) organized a committee in the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District (SMCISD) to circulate a petition, I did not pay much attention to it until I received a call from a client. He was incensed that his signature had been forged to the annexation petition and he wanted to do something about it. Many other forgeries on the petitions turned up, as well.
As it turned out, no annexation election was called that year because of the forgeries, but ACC did little to assure that those responsible for their crimes of forgery were brought to justice. No one was prosecuted and ACC prefers that we all forget about this little criminal episode and its responsibility for that crime spree. When ACC precipitated another “local” committee this year to once again push a petition for annexation of the SMCISD into their taxing district, I remembered the forgeries of 2006 and decided to become involved with an effort to defeat the inclusion of SMCISD in the ACC taxing district.
I joined with several others to both promote improvements in SMCISD and oppose the annexation by ACC by forming Citizens Advocating Responsible Education–S.M.C.I.S.D. Other groups, individuals, and clusters of citizens have become active in the last few months to oppose this annexation. The main reasons they all have for opposing the annexation of SMCISD into the ACC taxing district fall into three main categories:
I will write about each of these matters in separate columns.
Four years ago, when I heard the name ACC, I thought of it as a benign institution providing affordable educational opportunities. I have always supported public education. You might say I have a knee-jerk reaction favoring education. Most people also have an automatic favorable response to education. The great American belief is that education is the key to advancement socially, professionally, and economically. I never thought to challenge my own assumptions until I began to look carefully at what ACC is, how it operates, and what it does.
The first thing I noticed when looking at how accountable ACC would be to the citizens and taxpayers of the SMCISD is that if the annexation occurs, SMCISD will be totally dominated and controlled by Austin/Travis County voters, who make up the bulk of the population base of ACC. Travis County has over 1,000,000 residents, most of whom are included in the ACC taxing district. San Marcos has just over 52,000 residents. These figures alone make it clear which voters will control decisions affecting SMCISD if we become a part of ACC’s taxing district. San Marcos voters have no chance of controlling their own destiny with respect to ACC.
When the ACC taxing district collects $3 million a year from the SMCISD taxpayers, that money goes straight to ACC’s bank account in Austin. There is no obligation that it be spent in SMCISD. Local taxpayers will have no voice about how their tax money is spent.
Accountability is a one-way street. Once the voters agree to become part of the ACC taxing district, that decision is forever. We can’t take it back. ACC can tax everyone and every business in the SMCISD for as long as ACC exists. Owners of more than 1500 homes in the SMCISD defaulted on their taxes in 2009. Obviously, adding to their tax burden will not help them overcome their current delinquencies; it will exacerbate them.
One of the biggest financial accountability issues is that SMCISD residents become jointly and severally liable for all of the ACC taxing district’s liabilities. ACC’s bonded indebtedness, for which we become liable if we become a part of their taxing district, is now at $444 million. That is sure to grow, if it builds more facilities in any of the five areas it is now trying to annex (includes SMCISD, Bastrop ISD, Elgin ISD, McDade ISD, and Hays ISD). As taxpayers, we will have no control over how much debt they incur.
Finally, on the accountability issue, all ACC taxing district trustees live or work in Austin or in nearby Cedar Park or Leander. They have no special interest in SMCISD, its taxpayers, or its students. With the great disparity between the number of voters in the Austin ISD and those in the SMCISD, Austin will continue to control, dominate, and have its way, no matter what the residents of SMCISD want or need.
Voters should not be misled by the deceptive way the ballot is printed. It provides an opportunity to vote For” or “Against” this proposition:
ANNEXING OF THE FOLLOWING TERRITORY FOR JUNIOR COLLEGE PURPOSES: THE SAN MARCOS CONSOLIDATED INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT.
The words “junior college purposes” do not tell the voters that the real purpose is to collect taxes from us.
In future columns, I will explore some alternatives to ACC that may be far better than what ACC has to offer SMCISD and its taxpayers.
© Lamar W. Hankins, Local Government Watch–ACC Taxing DistrictEmail | Print