By JESSIE HORTON
ERATH COUNTY (September 28, 2017) – Erath County residents have been reading and hearing a lot of information about the upcoming election and the potential for Ranger College to annex the county into a taxing district.
Currently, Ranger is on the ballot for annexation of Brown, Comanche and Erath Counties. The Flash Today spoke with Ryan Ronan the Public Information Officer for Ranger College Thursday to clear up some of questions.
With an enrollment of 2,493 students on all campuses for 2017, including 523 enrolled at RC’s Erath County campus, the board at Ranger College approved a $20 million budget for all three campuses and the dual-credit students in 2018 during their August meeting. In that same meeting, the board also approved an $0.11 per $100 evaluation tax rate for 2018, Ronan said.
This means no matter if voters in all three counties approve annexation or none of the counties approve annexation, the tax rate in 2018 will still be $0.11 per $100. Ronan also said the wording does allow for an increase in the following year, if the board for that year approves an increase. However, he also said that increase could not be more than 7.99 percent without taxpayers voting for more.
This means Eastland County taxpayers will see a decrease in taxes this year, no matter what. However, it could very well go back up if other counties do not join, officials said.
“Of the $20 million budget for 2018, only $603,000 comes from taxes,” Ronan said. “This is the lowest percentage in the state by over $300,000. Which is definitely effected by the small amount of population currently in our taxing district.”
Currently, Ranger College only gets tax income from Eastland County, the location of their original campus. However, Ranger College has other campuses in Brown, Comanche and Erath Counties. They still receive money from students enrolled at these campuses, but do not currently collect any tax dollars from these counties.
This is similar to how Vernon College and Cisco College both work. For example, Cisco College, who has a campuses in Eastland County and Taylor County and has an enrollment of approximately 4,800 for 2017, only collects taxes from Eastland County at a rate of $0.1515 per $100 valuation.
Ronan said on Thursday that Ranger College has looked into other colleges in the state who have annexed counties including Austin Community College and a smaller college in Texarkana. This has allowed these schools to not only improve facilities, but also improve certifications offered by their campuses. Something Ranger College also hopes to do, should voters approve annexation.
“If all three counties approved annexation, students at Ranger College would definitely see an impact. There would be a bigger impact on the WorkForce program and the development of new programs and the ability to increase training on all campuses,” Ronan said when asked what impact would be seen if annexation was approved. “The impact for students would actually be two-fold as tuition would drop by close to 50 percent for those students attending classes on campus in addition to the better programs and training Ranger could offer. Dual-credit students (which Ronan said make up over 40 percent of Ranger’s enrollment) would see a drop in the prices of credits from $80 to $25. And that’s on top of being eligible for the Pell Grant.”
On the other side of the coin, Ronan was also asked to consider what might happen if none of the counties elected to be annexed by Ranger College and if students currently enrolled in RC would see any changes as a result.
“It’s unlikely current students would see a change. I can’t speak for tuition rates in the future, because it costs over $2 million a year just to operate the campus in Erath County, which we’ve invested over $6 million in recently,” Ronan said. “That is currently our largest campus in terms of enrollment size, so Ranger College isn’t going to be closing the doors, but I think it’s safe to say we can’t keep operating on this current business model without annexation. We would likely have to keep things as is and we definitely wouldn’t be able to expand the certification and training we hoped to offer.”
The approved combined operating budget for Brown, Comanche and Erath Counties in 2018 will be $5.6 million, Ronan said. This does not include the investments made into campuses. In the past few years, Ranger College has invested approximately $6 million in the Erath County campus and $1 million in the Brown County campus, he said. Adding that, both of those projects are completely paid off.
Debt and how it will be paid has been a big point of contention with the annexation election discussion and Ronan said Ranger College would like voters to understand that the $10 million bond Ranger currently is paying on will not be part of what annexed taxpayers would be paying.
“While I cannot say there will be zero debt when Ranger begins collecting taxes (if approved) in 2019 for the 2018 taxing year, I can say the $10 million bond debt will be paid off,” Ronan told The Flash. “Ranger is scheduled to have the debt paid off by the end of 2018 or beginning of 2019, we will begin collecting taxes in January 2019 based on the 2018 rates approved in August of this year.”
Another thing The Flash wanted clarification on were the several different statements made about exemptions should counties approve annexation, including Homestead and Over 65 exemptions. Ronan acknowledged there were confusing statements made in recent press releases to the public about the tax exemptions if the annexation is approved.
“It has been confusing for us as well,” he said. “As for the Homestead Exemption, it is a percentage of the value of the home and cannot be less than $5,000. We are honoring the state allowed amount based on the value of the property on all exemptions. Again, I apologize for any confusion in the press releases sent out.”
Ronan said Ranger College set about to annex these counties to help continue to improve the education and services offered to all students, as well as expand certifications and training they continue to offer as affordable as possible.
“Our goal is definitely to make an education, in whatever form that may be – from training or certification to a full degree, as affordable as possible to as many people as possible,” Ronan concluded.