The Collin County Community College District is asking voters to approve a whopping $600 million bond proposal in May.
What does the district plan to buy with such a huge sum – which must be repaid, with interest, with property tax dollars – and why do they need it all at once?
Voters had a chance to ask those questions and more at a Collin College Board of Trustees candidate forum co-hosted by four local conservative organizations on March 9. Four of the seven Board of Trustees candidates who will be on the May 6, 2017 ballot along with the bond proposal participated in the forum.
The proposed ballot language for the “For” or “Against” vote reads as follows:
PROPOSITION NO. 1:
THE ISSUANCE OF $600,000,000.00 BONDS FOR THE PURPOSE OF CONSTRUCTING, IMPROVING, RENOVATING AND EQUIPPING SCHOOL BUILDINGS IN THE DISTRICT AND ACQUIRING REAL PROPERTY THEREFOR, AND THE LEVYING OF A DEBT TAX IN PAYMENT THEREOF NOT TO EXCEED TWELVE CENTS ($ 0.12) ON EACH ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS ($100.00) OF ASSESSED VALUATION OF TAXABLE PROPERTY.”
Collin College’s current tax rate is 8.122 cents per $100 of property valuation, and according to Board of Trustees Chairman Dr. Bob Collins the college is currently debt-free.
Collins said in a press release about the bond issue that the board believes it’s necessary in order to keep pace with the county’s projected growth over the next 20 years and cited a list of “Collin College Master Plan” priorities, including “the construction of five facilities: a campus in Wylie; educational centers in Celina and Farmersville; a Public Safety Training Center in McKinney; and a technical center that will partner with area K-12 districts to prepare students for high-wage, high-demand industries.”
Forum attendees questioned the necessity of those projects, and also wanted to know whether the candidates would favor future bonds being broken down into separate projects, given that the current bond proposition “would provide trustees with enormous latitude to spend funds with no further voter approval,” and “severely restricts taxpayers’ input into the use of the funds.”
Many attendees weren’t satisfied with the candidates’ answers.
Place 2 candidate and current Place 1 trustee Nancy Wurzman said, “Asking you to trust us is warranted. If you don’t like us, you can vote us out.” She added, “You elect us to make those decisions” on how to spend property tax-funded bond money.
Place 5 incumbent Raj Menon, who is running unopposed, ironically agreed that trustees can be voted out if voters aren’t happy with trustees’ performance, adding, “We are a republican form of government – it’s my job to make the decisions for you.”
The “you can vote us out” canard is also being used by local elected officials opposed to local voter controls over excessive property tax rate increases contained in the property tax reform bill SB 2. A similar argument is also made by opponents of term limits, who are fond of saying, “We already have term limits. They’re called elections.”
But elections every two, four, or – in the case of Collin College trustees – six years provide meager opportunities for voters to protect their tax dollars.
Voters can’t really “vote them out” when incumbents all too often run unopposed, or candidates have near-identical aspirations to taxpayers’ money, as appeared to be the case with Wurzman and her challenger Jeri Landfair Chambers.
More importantly, voters can’t undo the sometimes irrevocable harm officials do during their terms, or “vote out” the debt they’ve imposed on taxpayers.
What Collin County voters can do if they don’t like all the components of the Master Plan, or don’t want to cede so much spending power all at once, is vote down the current bond proposal, get more answers to their unanswered questions, and have the college district try again with a leaner bond proposal – or a series of smaller individual-project proposals – in November.
Place 1 candidate Fred Moses also participated in the March 9 forum held at the $30 million Collin Higher Education Center, which houses the college’s board room. Voters will have more opportunities to hear from and question Collin College trustee hopefuls about the bond and other issues at upcoming forums on March 17 and April 5.
The seven trustee candidates, listed in the order they will appear on the May 6 ballot, are: Place 1 (six-year term) – Greg Gomel and Fred Moses; Place 2 (six-year term) – Nancy Wurzman and Jeri Landfair Chambers; Place 3 (six-year term) – Dr. Stacey Donald and Larry Wainwright; Place 5 (two-year term) – Dr. Raj Menon.