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ACC's $386 Million Propositions Look to Expand, Renovate Campuses

Austin Community College has reached a preliminary deal to buy more land at the Highland Mall site.
Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News
ACC's propositions look to increase funding to campuses like its Highland Mall campus.

With Austin's transportation bond, Prop 1, and Texas' additional transportation bond, also called Prop 1, garnering all the contention and headlines ahead of Election Day, it's easy to forget about other, less flashy bond propositions.

Austin Community College's three bond and tax propositionsmay not be high-profile, but they're not cheap either. If approved, the community college's proposed bonds would bring in nearly $400 million to fund expansion and renovations and would give ACC the ability to raise the cap on its tax rate.

First, ACC wants to borrow $224 million to retrofit a new campus at the Highland Mall, build a new campus in Leander, and buy some land in southeast Travis County for future schools.

“With our Highland campus, we have a general education program and this is going to take it to a different programmatic level with culinary and media programs,” says Vick Villareal, Vice Chair of the ACC Board of Trustees.

The second proposition would put money toward existing buildings, maintaining and expanding old buildings to provide more training programs and keep up with the area’s growing population. That proposition is $161 million. The state does not give community colleges money for facilities, which ACC President Richard Rhodes says could hinder the college’s growth without local tax revenue.

“The state made it very clear that if communities wanted community colleges that they would have to take responsibility for facilities and maintenance and operation of facilities,” Rhodes says.

Community colleges get money from the state, student tuition and local property taxes. Right now, the ACC district is at its tax cap, so it can’t get more money from local property taxes.

And for the past few legislative sessions, state lawmakers have reduced the amount of funding for community colleges.

“The students through tuition have picked up a large bulk of that over the years because we’ve been at a tax cap and when you look at those three sources, one is state appropriations that we have no control over,” Villareal says. “Two is local proposition tax that is capped and the students have had to pick up the burden both in terms of the maintenance and operation piece, funding maintenance and operating and academic pursuits.”

The third proposition is a tax cap election.

ACC is asking voters to increase the cap on the tax rate. Right now, the rate is nine cents per $100 of valuation. If the proposition passes, the cap would gradually increase to 12 cents by the year 2020.

So, ACC isn’t raising taxes right now, it’s just giving itself the opportunity to do so in future years.

Rhodes says if the propositions pass, ACC could stop raising tuition and, possibly, waive tuition for high school students who also take ACC classes.

“If we’re able to stabilize our tuition in an area that’s predictable and then you blend that in with opportunity for high school students to have no tuition courses through early college start dual credit, it makes it advantageous for community and really for the economy,” Rhodes says.

ACC’s bond shares the ballot with a $1 billion bond proposition for rail and roads. While ACC Trustee Vick Villareal says there is a concern bond fatigue may hurt the chances of ACC’s bonds passing, he says this bond project has been four years in the making.

ACC wanted to put the bonds on the 2013 ballot, but thought rail was going to be on that ballot. Then they cut the bond from the ballot and, in the latest iteration, ACC has reduced the amount they were asking for by 25 percent.

“Now, [we’re] on [the] ballot with three different proposition and, hopefully, they’ll pass,” Villareal says. “All are needed and have targets to them that very directly impact all of our constituents. It’s a measure of being deliberate, but it's also a measure of understanding where the community is and the need of the community." 

If the bond measures and tax cap increase are approved, the total tax impact is estimated to be an additional five cents per $100 of valuation. That would be phased in over time.

If all three propositions pass, the annual tax impact would be about $100 in additional taxes for a $200,000 home.

This is the second time ACC has held a bond election since it was created 41 years ago.

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