Pflugerville ISD residents mull over ACC annexation vote

Pflugerville ISD residents vote Nov. 6 on whether to annex the district into Austin Community Collegeu2019s taxation district. If passed, the measure would lower tuition costs for PfISD residents enrolling at ACC and increase tax rates for property owners.

Pflugerville ISD residents vote Nov. 6 on whether to annex the district into Austin Community Collegeu2019s taxation district. If passed, the measure would lower tuition costs for PfISD residents enrolling at ACC and increase tax rates for property owners.

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The Price of
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The proposition
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Austin Community College service area and Enrollment trends
Pflugerville ISD residents will decide in November whether they would rather save hundreds of dollars in property taxes or save thousands of dollars in community college tuition.

The ACC board of trustees voted Aug. 13 to officially put a proposition on Pflugerville ISD residents’ Nov. 6 election ballots on whether they want a portion of the school district to be annexed into the ACC taxing district.

Organizers on both sides of the issue have distributed hundreds of signs throughout the district and report they are receiving daily requests for more. One opponent of the proposition has erected a sandwich board in his truck bed, imploring neighbors to vote down the proposition.

Why all the passion? Essentially, both sides are arguing the same point—that this vote, whether it passes or fails, will have far-reaching consequences that will affect the Pflugerville community for decades to come.

Immediately, though, the impact of a ‘Yes’ vote on the proposition is clear. Anyone living in the PfISD tax district will instantly become eligible to enroll at ACC for roughly $3,312 less per semester, according to ACC.

“I can never see more educational opportunities being a bad thing,” said Pat Epstein, former chair of Pflugerville Pfriends 4 ACC, a political action committee in favor of the annexation proposition.

At the same time, district property owners will begin paying a median of $268.63 more in annual property taxes—a repercussion many residents find unacceptable.

HIGHER EDUCATION IN PFLUGERVILLE


Volunteers of Pflugerville Pfriends 4 ACC in May collected 3,556 signatures of registered school district voters to present to the ACC board of trustees. That amount of signatures exceeded the 5 percent of registered voters that were required to trigger the community college to consider annexing PfISD.

Hays CISD and Elgin ISD are the most recent school districts to annex into ACC’s taxing district—both in 2010. Two years prior, Round Rock ISD joined ACC’s taxing district. All three school districts now have ACC campuses.

Prior to placing the annexation proposition on PfISD voters’ November ballot, ACC was required to draft a service plan that outlines taxing rates, programs, tuition rates and fees, services and facilities plans.

ACC outlined plans for both credit and non-credit courses, some of which will be held at the Workforce Innovation Campus and Center that ACC has pledged to construct in Pflugerville.

“[ACC] is committed to providing a brick-and-mortar campus,” said Chris Cervini, ACC associate vice president.

Most notably, the service plan sets the tuition cost for in-district ACC students at $85 per credit hour—a figure well below the $361 per credit hour charge PfISD residents will pay for enrollment this fall semester.

TAX BURDEN ON RESIDENTS


The annexation service plan consequently lays out the potential tax burden property owners in the school district would incur should the proposition pass in November.

ACC’s combined tax rate currently sits at $0.1008 per $100 assessed property valuation.

The median home value in the city of Pflugerville in July sat at $266,500, per figures from the Austin Board of Realtors. With ACC’s new taxing rate, that household would begin paying $268.63 in annual property taxes on top of what it currently pays.

If the proposition passes, the new property taxes would be levied in 2019 and first due Jan. 31, 2020.

In its 2018-19 budget presentation, PfISD projected the net taxable property value in the district was $13.6 billion, meaning that ACC could potentially generate $13.7 million from PfISD residents.

That figure does not include potential homestead exemptions, which ACC will provide if the annexation proposal is approved. Per its website, ACC offers a homestead exemption of $5,000, with an additional $160,000 senior or disabled exemption.

In a presentation shown to PfISD residents July 19, ACC showed that it has risen its tax rate in the past five years from $0.0949 per $100 valuation in the 2013-14 school year to the current rate of $0.1008 per $100 valuation.

At its Aug. 13 meeting, the ACC board of trustees set a potential maximum tax rate of $0.1048 per $100 valuation for the 2018-19 school year. That rate, to be voted on by the board Sept. 10, represents a higher rate than both the effective rate and last year’s tax rate.

Opponents of the annexation proposal state that the potential for revenue collected by ACC does not proportionately balance to what PfISD students and residents are set to receive in return.

“It is a negative return,” said Kevin Pakenham, spokesperson for Pflugerville Residents for Responsible Taxation, a group that opposes the annexation proposition. “It will take millions of dollars out of our district forever and ever.”

COST BENEFITS FOR PFISD RESIDENTS


If approved, hundreds of students enrolled in PfISD would immediately see cost reductions for ACC tuition and fees.

But the cost savings are not exclusively reserved for high school students. Any resident with PfISD boundaries wishing to enroll in ACC classes—such as residents pursuing job training to rejoin the workforce—will see their tuition costs drop by hundreds of dollars. Populations such as home-schooled children could begin taking dual-enrollment ACC classes at a reduced cost.

Because PfISD is not fully within  ACC’s taxing district, most students and residents currently enrolled at the community college are paying $361 per credit hour between tuition and fees. That means if a PfISD resident signs up for a 12 credit hour workload—typically a four-course schedule—they pay $4,332 for enrollment.

In-district ACC residents, on the other hand, are paying $85 per credit hour between tuition and fees. If the proposal for annexation passes in November, that 12 credit hour workload would cost the PfISD resident $1,020 for their classes—less than a quarter of what they pay now.

PfISD’s John B. Connally High School  is already in the ACC district because the campus is located inside Austin city limits. An analysis of enrollment data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board shows that John B. Connally consistently enrolls a higher percentage of its students in ACC than other PfISD high schools, none of which are located within the ACC taxing district boundaries.

ANCILLARY BENEFITS


Tammy Smith, chairwoman of Pflugerville Pfriends 4 ACC, and her fellow committee members contend that the benefits of sending more students and adults to ACC reach beyond the surface level benefit of cheaper access to higher education.

“It really lifts your entire community when you can increase that education level,” Smith said.

Proponents of the annexation proposal say the outlined Pflugerville ACC campus will provide valuable job skills training to the Pflugerville community as a whole. In its service plan, ACC offers specialized business training to local businesses to help train and retain the local workforce.

This training, Smith contends, can aid in recruiting businesses that may have historically abstained from Pflugerville.

“They want to be able to recruit their employees right where they are and train them right there. Companies want that local training option,” Smith said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics outlined the financial impact that even minor college experience can have on an individual.

The Bureau of Labor in July found that high school graduates with any amount of college experience whatsoever earned a seasonally adjusted average $37,531 in annual wages—$1,000 more than a high school graduate with no college experience. The data also shows that high school graduates with college experience have a lower unemployment rate than their counterparts with no college experience.

People holding a bachelor’s degree or higher earned a seasonally adjusted average $56,940 in annual wages in July.

ELECTION SEASON


Both Smith and Epstein expressed some concern about the exhaustive ballot many Pflugerville residents will vote on Nov. 6. Epstein in particular is  worried voters may face “taxation fatigue” while looking at the collection of proposals.

In addition to the ACC annexation proposition, PfISD residents will vote on a bond proposition to the tune of $332 million from the school district. The city of Pflugerville is asking voters to approve $21.1 million in general obligation bonds for roadway projects.

“Pflugerville ISD supports the democratic process and encourages all citizens to voice their opinion on whether they feel it is a good fit for the community,” PfISD spokeswoman Tamra Spence said in a statement.

If the proposition fails to pass voter approval, a new petition would be required to bring the issue back to the ACC board. ACC spokesperson Jessica Vess stated a new petition may be brought to the board at any time, though signatures are only valid for 180 days.

Regardless of the vote’s outcome, Pflugerville will feel the decision for decades to come. Supporters of the annexation say the educated workforce and societal benefits stemming from increased higher education enrollment justify the cost for homeowners.

Pakenham said he does not agree with that sentiment.

“It is something that will hit us forever and only continue to rise,” Pakenham said. “At some point it is okay to say ‘No’ to additional taxes.”

Additional reporting on this article provided by Jack Flagler.
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By Iain Oldman

Iain Oldman joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after spending two years in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he covered Pittsburgh City Council. His byline has appeared in PublicSource, WESA-FM and Scranton-Times Tribune. Iain worked as the reporter for Community Impact Newspaper's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition and is now working as the reporter for Northwest Austin.


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