Ranger College has officially collected enough signatures to place its referendum on the November election ballot, the college’s spokesman told the Bulletin this week.
The petition results, collected over the past month, will be certified in the coming days. The college said it collected about 20 percent more signatures than necessary to trigger the referendum.
Brown County voters will now decide at the polls whether or not to become a part of the Ranger College District, which would result in a property tax increase in exchange for lower tuition costs and development by Ranger in the county.
Ranger says its initial tax rate will be 11 cents per $100 valuation, and that it hopes to renovate the former Bank of America building in downtown Brownwood as its new main county facility.
The college held a public forum on the referendum last month at its Heartland Mall location, answering submitted questions from several of the hundred-plus attendees. J.V. Hall was one of the locals at the meeting, and he voiced his concerns on the plan at the very end of the hourlong session.
“To me, the whole thing is like a massive con,” Hall said this week. “Especially for older residents. This would be devastating for those living on social security — it would mean less money for the rest of their lives.
“You’ve got your utilities, you’ve got your insurance. If you don’t have a house payment, that’s good, but you’ve still got medical and living expenses. You can’t hardly do all that on $600 or $700 a month,” Hall said.
Hall expressed skepticism about the proposed tax rate, which he worries will simply increase each year.
Ranger College spokesman Ryan Ronan said any tax increase over three percent triggers a public hearing. “I know there’s been a lot of talk about, well, it’s going to be 11 cents next year and them boom, next year it’s going to be 50 cents,” Ronan said. “It can’t go up more than three percent of a penny in a year without another public vote.”
Currently, the Ranger College District taxes portions of Eastland, Palo Pinto, Young and Stephens counties at 24.5 cents per $100 valuation. Ronan said that Brown will pay the same rate as the rest of the district, but that the entire district’s rate will fall to 11 cents when Brown County enters.
“That bond that was passed to redo the Ranger campus will be paid off,” Ronan said. He said the rate will fall regardless of referendum outcomes in Comanche and Erath counties.
When asked how Ranger plans to finance the Bank of America building renovation, Ronan said the college is not yet “one thousand percent committed” to the site.
“That’s not a bridge we’ve crossed yet,” he said. “Unfortunately, it keeps being given to us and then taken away.” He said Ranger is exploring other locations at this time.
Ronan said Ranger College doesn’t view itself as “direct competition” to Brown County’s other centers of higher education, TSTC and Howard Payne University. “TSTC and us do offer similar courses,” Ronan said, “but the majority of students in Brown and Erath counties that attend our campuses are non-traditional students or people looking for workforce certification.
“We’ve been in Brown County for almost eight years now,” he said.
Both TSTC and HPU declined to comment specifically on the Ranger referendum. HPU president Dr. Bill Ellis released a statement saying the university’s official position “is to remain silent on this matter, deferring to the will of the people of Brown County.”
“The [HPU] administration, faculty and staff are rightfully proud of our relationship with our area constituents and pray for another 128 years of successful operation in central Texas,” the statement says.
TSTC’s statement does not mention Ranger at all, but promises to “continue to work with our community college partners across the state while focusing on what we do best.”
Early ISD board of trustees president Shawn Russell did say that her district will likely need to raise tax rates in the near future and worries about the burden of additional taxes. She said the EISD total tax rate of $1.39 per $100 valuation has been the same for over 10 years.
“It was recommended that we do look at raising our taxes a little bit, but we as a board felt that’s not going to be a good option at this point in time,” Russell said. “We look at the fact that the city had a five-cent increase in taxes this year, and then with the Ranger College proposal of going up 11 cents — if we had gone up an additional five cents, you’re looking at the tax burden on the property owners of our community.
“It’s not just necessarily the homeowners, but it’s the business owners as well. Any time you talk about increased taxes it’s a difficult task, but you have to weigh the benefits with the costs,” she said. She encouraged Brown County residents to examine the referendum from both sides before deciding.
Ranger has worked closely with EISD and other local districts on dual-credit programs in recent years. Ranger is the only Texas college that can offer Pell Grants to high school students, and Ronan said almost 46 percent of dual-credit students are eligible for some amount of Pell Grant support.
Regarding Brown County’s large senior population, Ronan said Ranger offers a $5,000 exemption on the valuation of seniors’ property and a 100 percent exemption for disabled veterans. He said the Ranger board determines such exemptions, and that Brown County will be represented on the board as one of the district’s largest counties.
“We’re not trying to scam anybody,” Ronan said. “If this doesn’t go through we will be extremely disappointed, but we’re not going to leave Brown County. We will continue to be members of Brown, Erath and Comanche counties, so we’re not trying to burn any bridges or end any relationships that might damage that.
“It’s 11 cents, and it’s going to be 11 cents,” he said.
Ranger can be reached for questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Brown County will vote on joining the Ranger College District on Nov. 7.