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October 10th, 2010
Commentary: Anti-ACC article wrong on many counts

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.

[1] 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).

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

[5] 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).

[6] 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.

[7] 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

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15 thoughts on “Commentary: Anti-ACC article wrong on many counts

  1. The people who would be paying this new tax every year are not the primary beneficiaries. The majority of people who would be paying this new tax every year can’t afford this proposed new tax burden. Almost 2/3 of our SMCISD students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, based on low family income levels. Why should we take more money away from those people who don’t have enough to begin with?

  2. One thing Mr. Kaplan “forgot” to mention is, once the voters approve it, there’s no way for them to “de=annex” ourselves out of it. either you pay that TAX forever or vote NO and keep our choices open.

  3. The HOA Newsletter for the Plum Creek subdivision in Kyle came out last week, and it contained a front-page article that essentially put forth the idea that the tax annexation for ACC is a great idea. I emailed the Newsletter’s editor, and she replied that she was not aware that there was any opposition to the ACC annexation, and therefore did not publish anything that was contrary to the article’s premise. It is too late for that monthly newsletter to publish again prior to the election on November 2nd. Shame.

  4. I will challenge anyone to tell me why the proposition on the ballot will be stated in such a way to mislead the voters if this is such a good thing. The proposition will read something like this: “Annexation of the following territory for junior college purposes: San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District”. There is no mention of higher property taxes. I believe this is a pyramid scheme to bring in more tax dollars to help the ones at the top of the pyramid. If it doesn’t pass this time they will try again next year. They are relentless in their pursuit of more tax dollars. It’s very simple to see all this if you can get past the rhetoric. I encourage people to read the history of this going back to 2006 when they tried it last and failed.

  5. I would love to see things like this worded as either/or propositions, rather than yes/no, as in:

    permanent annexation, with immediate tax rate of X, potential tax rate of Y and tuition of Z


    current tax rate of A and tuition of B

    Sadly, this does not seem likely anytime soon.

  6. I would like to see the response to Jo Snider’s editorial in the Record. I will wait to see it come out in the Record.

  7. Lets take a quick look, I need to go mow so I will keep it short, I have a weed eater laying there maybe since you want to put a lien on my home forever you would like to come help me with my yard?.
    [1] See his reply on [3] They can’t raise them without taxpayer approval, but they can adjust them.
    [2]They should do away with their tax base and run the entire college off the funds collected by people who choose to attend. Playing shell-games with the funding, this money is from students, that money is from taxpayers, this money is from the state. phooey. As long as there is taxpayer money in the mix it is all taxpayer money and should be treated accordingly. You are printing money just like the guys in Washington and it needs to stop.
    [3]We didn’t vote on those bonds, or that tax rate. We are not those voters, Austin voters approved them we didn’t. Why should we inherit them? You have full control of the ballot language, put it on the ballot, why won’t it say it on the ballot?
    [4] The PFC issued bonds for the phase 1 of the RR campus, that with interest is going to cost $216 million dollars. While all of RRISD high schools sit empty at night and on weekends, plus a majority of the summer, someone gets to pay for this. It is listed in their budget, $7,273,963 as a payment in 2010. Oh that’s not taxpayer money it’s separate? What kind of shell game is that?
    [5] They increased out of district tuition rates by $13 per hour, he seemed to forget about that when he mentioned the $3 in district tuition rates. Tuition and Fee Totals calculated for a student enrolled for 12 semester credit hours. Out-of -district tuition rates. ACC=$1836.00 State Average=$1095.00 That is from 12/15/09, does not include the new prices. I guess he forgot about that.
    ACC’s out-of-district tuition rates are 60% higher than the state average, so reducing tuition can be done without annexation, if they truly care more about our students than our tax base. Tuition is temporary, but taxes are forever.
    [6] AS far as the senior citizen exemption, strange isn’t it how they raised the tax rate, they dropped the homestead exemptions for historical exemptions, the first time in 30 years their staff isn’t getting a raise, all occurred this summer, now weeks before the election they can afford to raise the exemption for the most likely voters in the election?
    [7] They do not benefit financially from annexations? They get a wider tax base in which to leverage for more bond indebtedness, they are going to pull all their administrator fees out before returning a portion back, reminds me of the federal government. Speaking of benefit, have you ever gotten a 33% raise? In 2009 ACC went and compared their administrator salaries to what other community colleges pay and gave themselves a big taxpayer funded pay raises some up to 33%. They did not compare their out -of-district tuition rates to other community colleges and slash them by 60% to be comparable. I can only assume you adjusted the size of your college to include the freshly annexed RRISD, while comparing so you could give your administrators the highest comparable raises.

    We don’t need them, they need our tax base period, if it was merely about the students there are many many things that could be done to slash costs by ACC, without taxing our homes.
    My, and your property taxes are too high right now, they can go to one dollar for ACC above and beyond what our local property taxes are right now. They will say it’s with voter approval only, Travis County Austin Voters, we are vastly outnumbered by them, we will have no say, they will be controlling taxes on our homes.

  8. Thank you Mr. Kaplan for the above clarification. Factual information is always very much appreciated!

    Now, it is encumbent of the voters to differentiate between heresay and fact. This will not be an easy task as much confusion still exists amongst taxpayers. For most, it is difficult to ascertain if the ‘facts’ are actually what we are hearing and/or reading, when there is differing information from what we also know to be credible sources.

    For me, too much ‘grey’ area remains in the overall dissemination of the ACC information/presentations. I am all for smart, responsible, positive growth of which could potentially include ACC but as it is currently, if I had to vote right now I would apprehensively be stepping into the ‘land of the unknown’ and as a result thereof would vote ‘against’ the annexation. I don’t hesitate to say that I am not alone. As a small, local business owner and school district taxpayer, I am interested in ONLY the facts. A specific and to the point; 1, 2, 3…black & white, ‘laymen’s terms’ explanation, if you will. I have yet to obtain one from all the ACC proponents. My preference is to vote on the basis of having had all THE FACTS. I seek the solace of knowing that I voted as an informed voter and my vote was the right vote for San Marcos residents and the future of San Marcos.

    As a process, I do appreciate and value the written & verbal information provided to date. As is custom, taxpayers and many voters will continue to balance our respective pros vs. cons columns as only we deem fit; however, with the hopes of having in advance the facts, all the facts and, nothing but the facts in an ongoing and concerted effort to make the best (and what each voter feels to be factually & fiscally right) decision for San Marcos— collectively.

  9. The proposed ACC annexation is especially a bad deal for the poor families that constitute the majority of SMCISD population. I am astonished we have local politicians rooting for more new taxes to be thrust upon our poor families. I am dismayed the ballot language hides the fact that this would be a new and permanent tax burden.

    Oh, sure, there are beneficiaries of the proposed ACC taxation. Texas State students who want to get cheap credit hours from ACC to transfer back to Texas State. Businesses who want local poor families to subsidize their employee training programs. Texas State wants it so they can spend less time on Freshman level course development and instruction.

    About 2 of every 3 children in SMCISD qualify for free or reduced price meals based on low family income levels. But those are the same families that would have to pay this new ACC tax every year. Why should we take more tax money away from those people who don’t have enough to begin with?

    Shame on the proponents who misled people into signing the petition in the first place. I was one of those people who signed the petition early on. But then I started hearing more about the complete picture, and realized what a bad deal this is for the people who would be paying the new tax every year.

    The ballot language is skewed to generate “yes” votes, ACC is and will be marketing heavily up to election time, and our city leaders seem happy to support this insidious tax on poor families who can’t afford it and don’t directly benefit from it.

    I am appalled to see this on the ballot, and I hope enough SMCISD taxpayers learn more about this issue in order to cast an informed vote.

  10. “Tuition is temporary, taxes are FOREVER”
    It is easy to “sugar coat” the ACC Taxing Districts actions with words like “minor increase.” Mr. Kaplan, in fact, confirms most of our objections to this property tax increase. He also insults San Marcos and Hays County CISD’s as having “relatively low property values.” San Marcos CISD property values according to 2009 figures are $3.2 billion and Hays CISD is at $3.4 billion. That is billion with a “B.” Not a bad chunk of change when you do the math. In fact ACC will collect over $6 million in property taxes, annually, forever. Here is a math problem for Hays ISD residents: How many students would have to be enrolled in ACC in Hays County to break even? Kaplan apparently didn’t expect any one to look up our worth in Hays County. Mr. Kaplan tells us to make our decision based on facts. So here are a few:
    In the past 5 months, Austin CC’s Board of Directors has been desperately scrambling for cash, hopefully to help pay off its massive $444 million in outstanding debt:
    1. Eliminating the historical building exemption.

    2. Raising in-district tuition rates $3 per credit hour.

    3. Raising out-of-district tuition rates $13 per credit hour

    4. Raising property tax from $.0946 to $.0951 per hundred

    5. No pay raise for ACC employees – 1st time in 30 years

    Here is another not so pleasant fact for Hays ISD taxpayers to chew on. San Marcos CISD’s debt is at $212 million and Hays CISD is a whooping $529 million. I have to ask property taxpayers and business owners who is going to step into a voting booth in November and cosign for ACC’s $444 million dollar debt by increasing their property tax, sending those dollars to AUSTIN. If this happens the health department should check the water supply immediately.

  11. The “pitches” I heard during the petition drive heavily emphasized glowing goodness and hardly mentioned (if at all, in most cases) anything about new permanent taxes. I fear some SMCISD taxpayers will go to the poll, read the ballot language, and vote “yes” thinking they are simply approving ACC to expand their courses here in San Marcos, not realizing their “yes” vote is also accepting a permanent new tax burden. The ballot language should have included some kind of statement that joining the ACC district means forever sending new tax money to ACC every year. I am amazed our city leaders think this is a good time to foist a new permanent tax burden on the citizens.

  12. RE: Steve Harvey: The fact that the petition AND the ballot make no mention of the word TAX is our biggest fear. Those who crafted the petition and the ballot had to deliberately leave out the word TAX from both items. The petition is written in such a way that only a college graduate (Flesch Grade 20.9) would be able to understand it. If this measure passes, one can only conclude those who vote for it never knew there was a permanent, forever property tax attached to it. After all, who in their right mind, in this time of economic uncertainty, vote themselves a tax increase of ANY kind?
    We must demand from our Legislature that future petition and ballot language be clear and state ALL aspects of a measure. There will be folks voting who are seeing this measure for the first time. This is just one item which shows the underhanded nature of ACC. Hey Mr. Kaplan, why not state there is a TAX on the ballot? We all know why you won’t.

  13. So the basic premise of many of these arguments is that most of the people of San Marcos are poor, in fact often below the poverty line. Isn’t this an indication that perhaps the status quo is failing? Numerous studies have been done that indicating that increased education leads to increased economic prosperity primarily through increased wages.

    I see few people discussing fixing the current education options here in San Marcos. The primary purpose of the community college system is work force education and preperation. Is this not what the city of San Marcos needs? If not then why do we have 2/3 of all SMISD students on public assistance programs? Should SMISD be sinking its resources into developing trade, apprenticeshop, and direct workfroce programs? Those cost money and would require increased taxes in any form. Who is the best option to do this?

    If you believe it is the school district rather than an instiution such as ACC then perhaps you should be pushing to bring such intiatives to the K-12 system. Is this what is being advocated? Perhaps the population is truly satisfied with economics and educational conditions of the city of San Marcos.

    My observation is that things San Marcos are stagnate. In time when all the communties are expanding and improving San Marcos is stubbornly digging its heels in and denying this changing reality. If you believe this is not the case then obviously a “no” vote would seem pertinent. If you believe that San Marcos needs a catalyst for change then their should be discussions on what could be the best catalyst for change. SMISD, Texas State, ACC, or some other solution? The reality is all of these will take some sort of investment which yes will mean money. If campuses, facilities, equipment, educators, and staff could be made with fairy dust I assume it would be done but unfortunantly those things cost money in one form or another.

    The annexation issue is one of investment. How much is the population of San Marcos willing to invest in itself? Instead of merely using trigger words and slogans perhaps there should be a greater discussion of whether there is a problem in San Marcos and if so what are the solutions.

  14. Brian, I agree with EVERYTHING you have said, other than ACC being the catalyst. It is incredibly sad that we have city council candidates calling San Marcos prosperous and claiming that we are making great forward strides and school board trustees (and others they have duped) calling this a “perception problem.”

  15. Unfortunately for our voters, the ballot language is set by the Legislature. No where on the petition nor the ballot does it mention taxes.

    We only have promises of what might be if annexation occurs and Del Valle found out after being annexed in 2004 that the promise of a campus has never materialized.

    We KNOW what will happen if annexation occurs. Property taxes go up and this is mentioned no where on the ballot.

    The Legislature set up the service areas giving the community colleges a monopoly over certain school districts. It then set the language for annexation that does not mention property taxes.

    Perhaps it’s time for all of us in the various school districts that have been annexed as well as the rest that are still in service areas to get involved in the legislative process in 2011 and get the law changed.

    We need to have a new section added that states an ISD that is in a service area OR has been annexed by a community college can get out by circulating a petition in the same manner as annexation and it will be voted on ONLY by the ISD that wishes to be de-annexed. (Not the whole taxing district of the community college)

    We also need to have the language on the ballot changed to clearly state to voters that they are voting to pay property tax to the community college if they vote for annexation.

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