Proposal slashes recommended $500 million package, suggests tax increase

An Austin Community College bond package for an amount less than originally recommended by staff could be joined on the November ballot by a proposed incremental tax increase.

ACC board members on May 5 discussed narrowing down a recommended $500 million bond proposal to $386 million. As part of the proposal from Trustee Allen Kaplan, the college would also seek voter approval on an incremental 4-cent tax increase, upping the district's tax rate by 1 cent each of the next four fiscal years after the election, if approved districtwide.

Kaplan, a 20-year board member, said the tax increase would support the bond and allow the college to freeze tuition during fiscal years 2015–18. The estimated $13.5 million per year raised from the proposed tax increase would be used to offset anticipated tuition increases, with the rest of the money set aside for construction, maintenance and more full-time hires, Kaplan said.

"I think it's very important that when we go out and make the argument to the public that we tell them for transparency sake what we would actually do the next four or five years with that [tax] increase," he said. "I want this community to feel we're doing a good job, and they should invest further in this community college."

The proposal drew mixed reaction from board members. Trustee John-Michael Cortez asked ACC staff whether tuition costs have risen to the point that a freeze—and subsequent tax increase—is necessary.

"I feel like before I ask the taxpayers to give us more money so we can maintain tuition I want to know we're actually addressing a real problem in a meaningful way and we're not actually making the problem worse in another way," Cortez said, suggesting a tax increase could also hinder potential students.

Trustee Tim Mahoney also voiced concerns about the proposed bond package, which includes $60 million to build a new campus in Leander, recommending the board instead call for a smaller bond—and, if successful, return to voters two years later to seek additional bond money.

"If we build a new campus in Leander, there's going to be other costs that will be associated with bringing that online that we have with Elgin and Hays right now, [and] that's not built into our financial picture," Mahoney said.

Vice Chairman Vic Villarreal, a Leander resident, reminded the board that the initial bond proposal set aside $125 million for a Leander campus.

"$60 million is something I can live with knowing that [more of] that campus will certainly need to be phased in in the future," Villarreal said.

Board members took no action on Kaplan's proposal; however, Chairman Jeffrey Richard said the proposed bond election will likely be called in late May during a special called meeting or during the board's June 2 scheduled meeting. The deadline for calling a bond election or to request a tax increase is Aug. 18.

"The very next meeting we may be prepared—and I think we will be—to take action, and it could be even sooner than that," Richard said.