Austin Community College is facing a legal challenge from Kyle dentist Ray Wolbrecht, who argues that the college district failed to tell Hays CISD voters how much a successful annexation election could mean to their tax bills.
Wolbrecht, who campaigned against the annexation prior to the Nov. 2 election, filed suit against ACC and its board of trustees last week in Hays County’s 207th Judicial Court. He’s asking the judge to void the results of the election.
“From my own personal experience, I estimate that four out of five people who voted for the annexation did not know it came with a property tax,” Wolbrecht said.
Five communities throughout central Texas voted on joining the ACC taxing district this November, with Hays and Elgin school district approving the measure and San Marcos, Bastrop and McDade ISDs shooting it down.
ACC officials say they stand by the election results and the way the election was conducted.
“We have reviewed a copy of the lawsuit and firmly believe it is without merit,” said Cobby Caputo, the college district’s legal counsel.
“We will vigorously defend the express will of the voters to be annexed into the ACC District, and we fully expect to prevail in court.”
The lawsuit hinges on the service plan published by ACC prior to the election.
“In that service plan, the law requires that they say what the maximum tax rate that voters will be looking at could be,” said Wolbrecht’s attorney, Mark Cusack of San Marcos. “The service plan published by ACC only put the actual tax rate, so they failed to comply with the statues.”
Cusack notes that ACC published the current total tax rate of 9.46 cents per $100 of property valuation in the June 2 service plan, and also stated that the maintenance and operations portion of the tax rate could not exceed 9 cents per $100 without voter approval.
However, the lawsuit argues that ACC did not publish the maximum tax rate of $1.00 per $100 of property valuation that they are legally allowed to assess.
“They didn’t comply with the statute and the election needs to be voided,” Cusack said. “I think it wasn’t fair to the voters and they have a right to know.”
Members of the Buda and Kyle business community lobbied hard in favor of the ACC annexation in the months leading up the election, and there was little visible opposition. Voters at the November polls widely supported an annexation into the community college district, with 58.5 percent of the 11,770 ballots in favor of annexation and 41.55 against.
About 12 percent of voters left their ballots blank. Meanwhile, San Marcos voters soundly defeated the measure, with almost 55 percent voting against the annexation.
Following the successful election, Hays CISD residents now pay the in-district tuition rate for ACC classes, at $42 per hour rather than the out-of-district rate of $150 per hour.
The owner of a property valued at $150,000 would pay ACC about $137 annually. Meanwhile, property owners who are disabled or over the age of 65 would get a $120,000 exemption and pay about $37 annually on a $150,000 home. All told, Hays CISD will provide AC with about $3.3 million in annual tax revenue at the current rates.
ACC has 96 acres of land in Kyle’s Plum Creek business district under contract, and plans to close on the sale in January, said ACC spokesperson Alexis Patterson. The school had originally planned a $45.8 million, 72,000 square foot campus, but recently announced it would construct a $55.8 million, 100,000 square foot facility, with a target opening date of August 2013.
JENNIFER BIUNDO is a senior reporter at the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through an news partnership between the Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.