Local Government Watch – Austin Community College District
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
One of the primary arguments in favor of the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District (SMCISD) being annexed by the Austin Community College (ACC) taxing district is that the tax will not be very much, mere pennies a day for wonderful benefits. A close look at the ACC taxing district’s structure reveals why neither of these propositions may be true.
In 2011, if the annexation by the ACC taxing district is approved by SMCISD voters, ACC will take about $3 million from SMCISD taxpayers, based on the current ACC tax rate and taxable property value. The HEB Distribution Center alone would pay more than $80,000 in additional taxes. This is not the whole story on taxes. Just as important as this new tax on taxpayers is who will make the decisions about taxes and the educational benefits to be offered in San Marcos.
The ACC trustees will make them. They control the amount of the tax levied annually, the amount of ACC indebtedness, and the use of the taxes levied. No matter what the ACC taxing district service plan for the SMCISD provides, the ACC taxing district is under no obligation to follow it. The plan is no more concrete than is a politician’s promise. In fact, the plan is so unimportant to the ACC taxing District that the SMCISD plan is copied from the Hays ISD plan, and ACC planners left in the HISD name in its fourth paragraph, overlooking the need to change it to SMCISD. (See the on-line version of the SMCISD service plan at the ACC website here).
Control by the Austin cabal of trustees means much more than the current tax rate, which was raised in August by ACC trustees. What they do in and for San Marcos, and how they do it, are even more important.
In 2007, the ACC taxing district created the Austin Community College District Public Facility Corporation (PFC) to finance, refinance, provide, or otherwise assist in the acquisition of public facilities for use by the ACC taxing district. As stated in its Articles of Incorporation, the PFC “shall have and possess the broadest possible powers to finance or to provide for the acquisition, construction, rehabilitation, renovation, repair, equipping, furnishing and placement in service of public facilities of the System in accordance with the (Texas Public Facility Corporation Act).” The trustees of the ACC taxing district are also the Board of Directors of the PFC.
Under the authority of the Local Government Code, the PFC may issue bonds with the approval of the ACC taxing district trustees, that is, its own Board of Directors. No vote of the people living in the ACC taxing district is required before the PFC can issue bonds. It is a wholly self-perpetuating and self-financing entity. The ACC taxing district, in turn, rents or leases facilities from its PFC.
Supporters of the annexation of the SMCISD into the ACC taxing district have pointed to the current low level of taxes currently required by the ACC taxing district–about 10 cents for each $100 of property value. However, the ACC taxing district can increase its tax for both repayment of bonds and for maintenance costs up toup to $1.00 per $100 of property value–ten times what it is now. As the PFC builds new facilities in its planned far-flung empire, rents and lease obligations will increase, making increases in taxes inevitable. In 2010, the ACC taxing district and its PFC announced the acquisition of almost 400 acres of land in Leander, Elgin, Austin, Bastrop, and Kyle, at a cost of over $33 million. Its plans include buying more land in San Marcos and elsewhere at a cost of more millions.
In August, the ACC taxing district trustees raised its tax rate by a half-cent. Earlier in the year, the ACC taxing district dropped part of an exemption for historical homes and increased tuition for its students. All three of these actions result in more income for the taxing district to offset declining property values as we enter the third year of a severe recession. At its whim, the ACC taxing district trustees can make other tax changes that could increase taxes for seniors and the disabled.
2010 expansion of ACC taxing district
Remarkably, the ACC taxing district is attempting to expand into five more school districts this fall. They include SMCISD, Hays CISD, Bastrop ISD, Elgin ISD, and McDade ISD. The reason for this expansion may be found in a report issued in 2008 by the Austin Chamber of Commerce in its Austin Community College Progress Report: “To avoid the possibility of ACC facing severe fiscal constraints…the Metro Austin business community should strongly consider supporting thoughtful efforts to expand ACC’s taxing district.”
There it is in a nutshell. The ACC taxing district needs to expand its tax base in order to overcome perceived fiscal problems. And those problems are perceived, not by anyone in San Marcos, but by the leaders of the Austin business community. The ACC taxing district needs an additional $3 million from SMCISD taxpayers to stay out of trouble.
According to the best information available and obtained through Public Information Act (formerly the Open Records Act) requests, in the fall of 2009 there were 757 students taking ACC courses here in San Marcos at facilities rented from SMCISD. As many as 50 may be SMCISD graduates. Most of the rest were Texas State University students trying to get transfer credits from ACC and high school students taking ACC courses for dual credit–to receive both high school credit and community college credit for the same course.
The $3 million in new taxes the ACC taxing district will receive from SMCISD taxpayers if the area is annexed represents about $60,000 per current SMCISD graduate who is attending ACC. If each one paid out-of-district tuition for a 15-hour course load, the cost would be just over $2,000 per semester; $4,000 for a full year. At that rate, our $3 million per year would pay for 750 full-time SMCISD graduates to attend ACC at the out-of-district tuition rate, or over 2,500 students at the in-district rate. But there is no demand by those numbers of SMCISD graduates to attend ACC. The main beneficiaries of annexation, with its reduced tuition, are Texas State University students looking for transfer credits.
The use of SMCISD classrooms in the evening when most ACC courses are offered is a good use of existing public facilities, and does not add to the burdens of SMCISD taxpayers. As a longtime taxpayer in SMCISD, whose daughter graduated from SMHS, I would rather pay an additional 10 cents per $100 of valuation on my property to improve the SMCISD schools, rather than give that money to an unaccountable entity based in Austin, which could be offering significant vocational education to SMCISD students and graduates now, without annexation, as the Alamo College system does for Seguin and New Braunfels students, though those two school districts are not annexed into the Alamo system. The ACC taxing district has no interest in helping SMCISD graduates unless it can get its institutional hands into our pockets by collecting an additional tax each and every year forever.
In a subsequent column, I will describe more academic and vocational opportunities that SMCISD graduates could use and look at how and whether the ACC taxing district will provide those opportunities.
© Lamar W. Hankins, Local Government Watch–ACC Taxing DistrictEmail | Print