Another tax increase could be coming for Amarillo voters this May—to the tune of 14 percent.

Recently, The Amarillo College Board of Regents voted unanimously to order a bond election for the college district in the upcoming May local elections. The bond election for the district will be the first of its kind since 2007 and will carry a price tag of $89.2 million. Officials say the bond’s final total was selected from an initial master plan of $150 million in overall campus projects.

But aspects of the bond have given residents reason to pay close attention.

The board did not provide specifics on which projects from the master plan will be included in the bond election. Amarillo College’s master plan from Parkhill, Smith & Cooper called for six main areas of focus, including one item centering on the development of a “downtown innovation hub.”

Additionally, some residents expressed concerns that the project was rushed. At the board meeting, Amarillo mayoral candidate Kip Billups testified that the bond should only be ordered with a “full, clear, and concise idea” of where the money will be spent.

On top of that, Amarillo College President Russell Lowery-Hart raised eyebrows recently when he said the bond’s timing was due to “political reasons.”

“We’ve asked [our consultants] to speed [up] that process because there might be political things we have to do that require us to deal with it sooner rather than later,” Lowery-Hart said in an interview with Amarillo College’s student newspaper.

Most importantly, citizens could see substantially higher tax bills if the bond is passed. According to an exchange between regent Dan Henke and board president Paul Proffer, voters in the Amarillo College taxing district will see a tax increase of about 14 percent.

However, during the board’s meeting, college regent Johnny Mize sought to put concerns to rest, saying the board was fully informed on the bond’s potential effects and that regents spent roughly two and a half hours going through the prospective bond information before deciding to place the item on the ballot.

This election will mark the third consecutive year that Amarillo voters have been faced with an education bond: voters in the Amarillo Independent School District approved a $100 million bond in November 2017, and voters in the Canyon Independent School District—which includes some neighborhoods in southwest Amarillo—voted to approve nearly $200 million in bonds in November 2018.

Voters will decide this election on May 4 as well as the re-election bids of Proffer, Mize, and longtime regent David C. Woodburn, who also voted to send this bond to the ballot. The three incumbents have drawn challenges from Amarillo residents Jack B. Westbrook and Terry Hawthorne.

This race will be one to watch, as it could affect overall turnout and possibly shape the electorate’s feelings on fiscal matters and tax increases during Amarillo’s municipal elections.

Thomas Warren

Thomas Warren, III is the editor-in-chief of the Amarillo Pioneer newspaper in Amarillo, Texas.