GUEST COMMENTARY by ALLEN H. KAPLAN
Vice Chair, Austin Community College Board of Trustees
Voters deserve to have accurate information when they decide whether the benefits of joining the Austin Community College district would be worth the costs. The opinion piece you recently published contained several assertions that are clearly false, and this letter is to set the record straight on those facts.
 This year’s increase in the ACC tax rate was 1/20 of a cent, not the half-cent claimed in the article. This minor increase was due to the need to generate a fixed amount of bond-repayment funds from a slightly smaller tax-base valuation. Over the past five years, ACC tax rates declined for four years before this small increase (9.65 cents in 2007, 9.58 in 2008, 9.54 in 2009, 9.46 in 2010, 9.51 in 2011).
 It is true that ACC can issue bonds without taxpayer approval, and it has done so repeatedly as it has developed its facilities. But the only taxes that are levied to repay bonds are those approved by voters in bond elections. All other bonds are repaid from student building fees (currently $11/credit-hour). As ACC student enrollment grows (it is up 40 percent in the last 5 years), the money available to pay for bonds for expanded facilities also increases.
 The assertion that the ACC Board can increase the tax rate without voter approval is not correct. That is true for other Texas community colleges (although none have raised taxes anywhere near the legal limit), but the legislation that established Austin Community College reserves that power to the voters of the ACC district. Those voters have approved a 9-cent rate for maintenance & operations, plus one 2003 tax-bond issue that now costs a 0.51-cent rate to service.
 ACC’s Public Facility Corporation (PFC) is a legal convenience that enables ACC to get better bond rates and to act quickly on land acquisition and facility construction. It has no power to levy taxes.
 ACC did increase student tuition this year by $3 per credit-hour, but that was the first tuition increase in five years and ACC in-district tuition/fees remain below state averages ($58/credit-hour for ACC compared to an average of about $64/credit-hour at other Texas community colleges and $260/credit-hour at Texas state colleges).
 It is correct that the elected ACC Board sets the senior/disabled homestead exemption. This is why it was able to increase it to $120,000, much higher than other jurisdictions. While it would be legally possible for the Board to lower the exemption, history shows the opposite trend – it started at $75,000 in 1987 and has been repeatedly raised over the years to ensure that it exempts most homestead property of senior citizens.
 ACC does not itself benefit financially by annexations, since most areas that are interested in joining are those with relatively low property values and a substantial need for low-tuition higher education. The cost of building and running a new local campus fully absorbs the local tax receipts. But the region as a whole benefits from broader access to higher education, and since ACC already is covering the overhead expenses of a college administration it can afford to add campuses at mid-sized communities that are willing to help pay their way.
Rather than listening to nightmares about what ACC might do, I recommend that people look at what ACC actually did do in an almost-identical recent situation. When voters from Round Rock ISD approved annexation in May 2008, ACC quickly built the promised full-service campus and is educating over 5,000 students at it this fall. Thus ACC kept every promise it made, and these are the same promises it is making to the districts participating in this election.
You can depend on ACC to deliver the promised benefits if your community decides to join the ACC district. ACC has also made the costs clear. Make your decision based on these facts, not unfounded accusations.
Allen H. Kaplan is vice chair of the Austin Community College Board of Trustees and chair of the Community College Association of Texas Trustees. He can be reached at email@example.com.Email | Print