Today the Texarkana College Board of Trustees voted to place a proposition on the November general election ballot for a portion of Cass County voters to decide whether to become a part of TC’s taxing district.
By joining the district, residents within the annexed territory would benefit from a dedicated, state-of-the-art workforce training facility located in Cass County that would prepare students for careers in high demand occupations. Residents would also pay reduced tuition rates for all TC courses, including online and dual credit courses.
Today’s action by Trustees came after reviewing feedback from community stakeholders, data received from surveys, and reports of a substantiated need for a skilled workforce to support economic sustainability for Cass County.
TC President James Henry Russell said TC’s highest priority is increasing the number of people with higher education credentials in our region. The 2015 American Community Survey reports that Northeast Texas has the lowest percentage of persons holding higher education credentials in the state. Russell said this is a red flag for our region, and the consequences of remaining status quo will result in a declining economic base, which has historically led to higher crime rates and an increased risk of health problems.
“When it comes to educating students in Cass County, public schools are doing a great job with over 85% of residents earning at least a high school education,” Russell said. “But when it comes to taking that next step to earning a higher education credential that leads to a better future and increased wages, the data we see is staggering—only 13% of Cass County residents have earned a bachelor’s degree or better. This falls way below the state average of 27%.”
If voters decide to become part of the TC taxing district, Russell said they will see a big return on investment.
“One of the major benefits of growing the district includes increased access to dual credit programs for area high school students and reduced tuition rates,” Russell said. “Just last year alone, students in Cass County earned 1,892 college credit hours through dual credit, saving families almost $1.5 million compared to tuition at the average state college or university. And if annexation is successful, TC students earning an associate degree or certificate would begin paying in-district rates for tuition amounting to more than a $1,000 savings per year.”
If voters approve the annexation measure, TC would also develop a workforce training site in Cass County. Programs being considered to offer at the new site include licensed vocational nursing, welding, and cosmetology. In addition, Cass County taxpayers would have representation on the TC Board of Trustees, providing a voice for the people in that area to meet their higher education needs. Taxpayers who are disabled or senior citizens age 65 years or older would see a $5,000 tax exemption and a freeze on their property tax after the initial tax is assessed.
Russell said a recent survey indicates that 84% of registered voters in TC’s service area in Cass County have a favorable impression of TC. Voters also indicated through survey results that keeping a low tax rate is of utmost importance.
“TC has the lowest tax rate in our region and one of the lowest in the entire state of Texas,” Russell said. “Over the years, TC has maintained a stable tax rate that falls far below state average. In addition, TC has no taxpayer-funded bonds. No state or local tax income funds student scholarships—it’s all raised through the TC Foundation via private donations.”
In other business, Trustees approved a tax rate of $0.110718 for the 2016-17 budget year generating an estimated $5.7 million in revenue for the College. This is an increase of $0.005451 over the current year’s rate of $0.105267. Bowie County taxpayers with $100,000 in property value will see a slight increase in taxes of approximately $5.45 annually. The Board of Trustees conducted public hearings on August 8, 2016 and August 15, 2016 to receive input from the public on the proposed rate.
“Even though the college has taken drastic cost cutting measures and has increased tuition over the past few years, TC’s cost savings measures have been counteracted by drastic declines in state funding,” Russell said. “The slight increase in the tax rate will help balance the budget but does not allow for needed revenue for deferred maintenance. Our 2016-2017 budget is bare bones and includes substantial college-wide cuts and revisions to maintain a break-even bottom line.”
Trustees also took action to order a trustee election for board places 1 and 2 to be included on the general election ballot in correspondence with Bowie County’s polling places. The term of office for each place will be 6 years. Early voting will begin on Monday, October 24, 2016, and will run through November 4, 2016, with election day set for November 8, 2016.