By Joanna Armstrong
At the February board meeting, Northeast Texas Community College board members unanimously approved two motions that would take the community to the polls once again this spring to vote on raising the tax cap. The proposition a “levy of maintenance tax and bond debt services taxes,” would adjust the tax cap from the 10 cents it has worked under since opening its doors 30 years ago, to 13 cents for every $100 valuation.
This decision comes about after two propositions were on the ballot during the November midterm election, one asked voters to approve raising the tax cap while the other dealt with the request to issue $19.9 million in bonds. While the second proposition barely passed by only four votes, the failure to lift the tax cap left NTCC with authorization for the bonds, but no way to pay for them.
If the tax cap is raised and the bond funds are made available, the money would be used for various campus maintenance projects including repairing the failing waste water treatment plant, one of the major problems facing the college.
NTCC President Brad Johnson reported that during times of peak load, the system is losing between 45,000 and 60,000 gallons of water and had to be manually refilled. “Catastrophic failure in this system, which is possible under some of these conditions, would shut down the campus for some period of time,” Johnson said.
The motion to call for the election was made by Bill Ratliff, the former Lieutenant Governor of Texas, while board member Chuck Johns seconded the motion. Johns opposed the decision to lift the tax cap last fall when the board first took the tax increase and the bond measures to the voters.
“I think it’s important, extremely important, that this thing pass,” said Johns. “I don’t think you can go back a third time.”
During the meeting, the board debated whether to ask the public to raise the current 10 cent tax cap by 3 cents or 4 cents, before deciding on the 3 cent increase. “All this to me is a little bit of a compromise. I wanted the 14 cents,” said Board President Dr. Dan McCauley. “I don’t think the issue is three or four. I think the issue is people voting against taxes or voting for it.”
Additionally, the board discussed the upcoming changes in tuition. Starting in the summer, in and out of district tuition will be raised by 3 percent as will room and board in the east residential housing. However, due to the increase in competition from other colleges offering dual credit online, the board decided to lower dual credit tuition. In-district dual credit students will see a drop from $255 to $200 for three credit hours. While tuition for dual credit students who live out of the district will see a decrease from $426 to $300.
Johns voiced concerns that the decrease for dual credit students might hurt the college if the bond election does not passed. “If this bond election doesn’t pass,” said Johns, “We may have to reconsider. We can’t keep the doors open.”
The board voiced some concern that because the previous election was held during a general election, the upcoming election could have low voter turnout. “I do think that if the students and their families understand the alternative it might drive some more turnout,” said McCauley. “We have a lot to offer down here.”
Addressing the board, Johnson was adamant that the college is still successfully completing its mission despite the imminent need for repairs on the 30-year-old building. “The dilemma I find myself in is that on the one hand, the challenges we face are absolutely real and imminent. We must address these issues, there is no choice,” he said. “On the other hand, this college stands at the cusp of being able to become an even much more prominent economic player with its reach over the next ten years.”
He compared the college’s current dilemma to a successful company that is operating out of a building that needs refurbishing. “We are doing outstanding work,” Johnson said. “Our students are getting tremendous opportunities as a result of what’s happened here.”