Weatherford Opinion

Protect your Parker County tax dollar

Dear Editor,

Texas House Bill 2194 as presented by Representative Phil King is seriously flawed and totally egregious and unacceptable for Parker County taxpayers. It is essential that taxpayers voice their displeasure in this bill with Representative King as soon as possible and request at least a public hearing on it. It would allow the placement of two Wise County representatives selected by the Wise County Commissioners court for 2 year terms on the Weatherford College Board of Trustees. The two Wise County board members would be allowed to "participate in the decision-making of the board to the same extent as any other member of the board, including by voting on any budget that affects the entire district."

This is despite the fact that:

▪ Wise County taxpayers only pay 4.6 cents per $100 for their Branch Campus Maintenance Tax (BCMT) which is only for repaying their bond on their building plus its maintenance versus over 12 cents for Parker County taxpayers for operation of the whole district and service college operation.

▪ This would allow Wise County to say how Parker County taxes are spent.

▪ Wise County’s campus budget is approximately $5.7 million, less than 12 percent of WC’s entire budget. Their BCM tax contribution is only $2.8 million which does not even cover the cost of their annual facility bond payments and maintenance costs for their physical facility. Their bond payments are scheduled to grow annually over the next 30 years.

▪ Parker County’s population is approximately twice that of Wise County.

▪ This would set a precedent for any Texas county in a college service area to pass a BCMT for any nominal amount and be able to get seats on their college serving district’s board.

Weatherford College has offered courses in Wise County for close to 40 years. In October 2007 Weatherford College and a Wise County Local Steering Committee submitted a Request to the Texas Higher Education Control Board (THECB) Regarding a Branch Campus Maintenance Tax for Wise County.

In that document, Wise County agreed "Levying of a BCMT does not authorize the county to have representation on the College Board of Trustees. This would occur only if the county voted to annex itself into the College’s taxing district…". Representation on the board was not proposed or envisioned and was specifically excluded by the two entities. Wise County is now reneging on this agreement. The WC Board would positively entertain Wise County’s annexation into the WC taxing district with equitable taxing participation.

In 2008, Wise County voters approved a Branch Campus Maintenance Tax (BCMT) of up to 5 cents per $100 valuation to build, maintain and operate college operations at a new WC campus located between Bridgeport and Decatur. The tax has only been levied at 5 cents for a short time in the first year and then was reduced by Wise County in 2010 and again in 2012 and now sits at a little above 4.6 cents. This occurred despite repeated requests from the WC Board for Wise County to go to their agreed upon and voter approved 5 cents because not enough funds were being raised.

This brings in much lower revenues than those needed to fund the Wise County campus. Since construction did not start for almost two years after the voters approved the tax, the reserve account grew substantially. Under the terms of agreements between the College and Wise County, if the reserve falls below a level of $2 million, it will be reconstituted by the County.

Because costs have been higher than the revenue generated by the sources of funds, the reserve surplus has been utilized to balance the budget. It is forecasted that the reserve will be down to the $2 million threshold within two to three years. Yet Wise County still refuses to address going to the voter approved 5 cent tax rate.

The Wise County cost issue continues to be a result of several things:

▪ Wise County built a facility over twice the size that Weatherford College recommended; thus dramatically raising the total cost.

▪ Unable to get financing for the 3 to 4 percent on the open market, Wise County financed through their Bond company for interest up to the 8 percent range. This drastically raised the cost of their bond.

▪ Of course, setting the tax rate lower than that authorized by the voters.

▪ A drop in forecasted property values against which that lower tax rate is applied.

The WC Board has offered Wise County an advisory role on the Weatherford College Board of Trustees which they have not been amenable to. They complain about taxation without representation." Wise County seems to want representation without taxation; to be able to spend Parker County tax dollars to cover their short falls. The WC Board does not impose the Wise County tax nor impose the required order of expenditure of their BCMT which is first and foremost "retire debt for the facility" and "maintain the physical plant and grounds. This is totally unfair and contrary to the spirit of the entire Branch Campus concept. Weatherford College and Parker County have always strived to be fair and accommodating to those in our service area while conservatively spending our tax payer’s dollars. The fact that our WC tax rate is 12.019 cents per $100 evaluation compared to the average for the total Texas community college average of 18.576 cents (or 2/3 of the whole state rate) confirms that.

Your prompt objection to this bill is needed in order to protect your tax dollars.