San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

June 17th, 2011
ACC awaits appeals court ruling in ballot language lawsuit

Austin Community College officials say they have expanded plans for the North Hays County campus on FM 1626 (Kyle Parkway), which was originally announced as a $45.8 million, 72,000-square-foot project. Planning for the campus is ongoing but the college district can't sell bonds to fund construction until a Kyle dentist's lawsuit challenging a recent annexation election is settled. ARTISTS' RENDERING by GENSLER

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.

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6 thoughts on “ACC awaits appeals court ruling in ballot language lawsuit

  1. While I’m sorry for the loss of Federal funds, I do believe that the local voters had, for the most part, no idea of the serious negatives associated with the ACC deal. Other communities voted down the deal – perhaps because their voters were better informed..

  2. @Charlie: ACC provided voters in all counties the information they were legally required to provide. While this article mentions that some communities voted down annexation, it fails to mention that the Elgin community approved ACC on the ballot.

    Don’t run to assume ACC is legally irresponsible because some communities voted against affordable higher education options in their area.

  3. Well then you are wrong Charlie. I voted for ACC in Kyle. And I was very well informed. I also spoke to many other voters. They too were very well informed.

    Maybe you should stop “guessing” what was in the heart of voters (as though that might call into question the validity of the vote in the first place) and just live with the final vote. It’s called democracy.

  4. The law is pretty clear, they have to put the maximum tax rate in the service plan,they didn’t.
    I do not know what their definition of fraud is but wikipedia’s is ” In criminal law, a fraud is an intentional deception made for personal gain or to damage another individual ”
    They didn’t “WIN” in court they found a friendly home town judge to “PRICE” the common citizen out of the process.Who oversee’s this fouth branch of government? They pretty much do as they please, spend whatever they want with no oversight?
    They are a half billion and growing in debt,they created a shell company to issue debt, so they do not have to ask the taxpayers whenever they feel like printing money.
    1661 voters in Hays CISD didn’t even vote on it, left it blank, do you think it would have been left blank if people would have been aware of a perpetual tax?Or how high the tax could go?

    I guess using some peoples reasoning, no matter how they get the votes is okay,laws are for us serf’s. So If it would have passed when they had all the forged petitions, that would have been okay , right? Same difference the law wasn’t followed,In a Democracy a taxpayer/voter gets his day in court. The good doctor hasn’t, he has been priced out by a TRAVIS County Judge, for something that occured in Hays County. Look it up her jurisdiction is Travis County, I guess this is your kind of Democracy?She let ACC include their shell company, who did not have a damn thing to do with the election, join in against one of your fellow citizens.I guess thats okay in your kind of Democracy right? Not Mine.

  5. @Freedom Lover (and I use the name loosely) — Your brand of democracy is that your vote is worth more than the rest of ours. The voters in HCISD knew what they were voting for and the annexation passed. The will of the people spoke. But because you didn’t get your way, you want a do over. Sorry, democracy doesn’t work like that. Wolbrecht has already cost us $21 million that would have helped keep our taxes low, plus the cost of the frivolous lawsuit. If ACC taxes do go up, we will have him to blame.

  6. Freedom means you have the opportunity to do whatever you want to do. If you want to go to Disneyland,six flags,Aruba or Community College, go for it. Why should I pay for a choice an adult makes? Will of the Voter? What do you not comprehend about 1661 voters leaving the ballot blank? The ballot not stating that there was a tax? Them not putting the the maximum tax in the service plan as required by law? Oh but even though the law wasn’t followed now it’s the will of the voter? Where were you when they paid $102,000. per acre for land? Why were you not jumping up and down and screaming about the waste of money? How about their half-billion dollars in bond debt,does that concern you? No it appears your just worried about a free ride subsidized by others. Get a cardboard sign, pick an intersection, at least anyone who gives you money has a choice whether to give it to you or not, its more honorable than omitting information on a ballot in order to slide something by that Forces people to pay or their homes are taken away from them. Plus you have to look them in the eye as you beg, not hide behind corny sayings like “will of the voter.”

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