by WES FERGUSON
The fate of Austin Community College’s first campus in Hays County could be decided any day now.
Plans for the new campus were at least temporarily frustrated nearly six months ago when Kyle dentist Ray Wolbrecht filed a lawsuit challenging the annexation of the Hays Consolidated Independent School District into ACC’s taxing district.
Hays CISD residents voted to join the college district last November by a margin of 58.5 percent. But Wolbrecht argues the college failed to accurately inform voters of the full tax impact they could face after annexation, as required by law.
“If the ballot had mentioned the property tax, I guarantee you people would have voted against it,” Wolbrecht said. “A lot of people left the spot blank because they didn’t understand the ballot language.”
The ballot reads: “Annexation of the following territory for junior college purposes: All the territory in Hays Consolidated Independent School District.” Voters in the San Marcos, Bastrop and McDade school districts rejected ACC annexation in the same election.
Wolbrecht says that prior to the election, ACC should have informed voters that state law allows college districts to collect up to $1 in property taxes per $100 of assessed value.
ACC notes that its actual tax rate is far smaller than that – 9.46 cents – and any increase would be subject to voter approval. The college has maintained the election was legal, and the lawsuit is without merit.
In January, the college’s lawyers asked a Travis County district judge to rule that Wolbrecht be required to put up a $3 million security bond to continue the lawsuit. The judge sided with ACC. Wolbrecht couldn’t pay the $3 million, he said, and his case was dismissed.
Wolbrecht’s attorneys appealed the decision in March, and his challenge is awaiting a ruling by Austin’s 3rd Court of Appeals. Wolbrecht’s lawyers are not charging him for their work, and 25 or 30 people have contributed to his legal fund in case his challenge is returned to a lower court, he added.
“There’s a lot of supporters who think we got a raw deal,” he said.
Cobby Caputo, a lawyer for ACC, referred media inquiries to the college’s spokeswoman, Alexis Patterson. The spokeswoman referred questions to a news release. In the news release, the college said it is moving forward with plans for the campus, but it will not be able to issue bonds for construction until the legal challenge has been resolved.
The lawsuit has cost ACC about $21 million in federal stimulus funds, according to the college. Because of Wolbrecht’s legal challenge, the college was unable to apply for the Build America Bonds program, which would have funded 35 percent of interest costs associated with construction of the Hays campus.
Until the bonds are issued, the college can’t determine the size and capacity of the planned campus, but it hopes to serve about 2,000 students. In the meantime, students from Hays CISD are eligible for the lower in-district tuition rate at other ACC campuses.
WES FERGUSON reports for The Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.Email | Print