Brownwood resident Barry Carter has a plant that sits on his desk at Superior Essex, where the 47-year-old Carter works as the chief accounting manager at the manufacturing giant’s Brownwood facility.
The plant — a mixture of succulents in a blue square ceramic pot — was a Father’s Day present, and Carter dutifully watered it daily. But the plant was wilting, and co-workers told him he was watering it too much — “loving it to death,” Carter recalled co-workers saying. The plant has since recovered.
“I just look at Ranger College and I’m afraid that they’re just trying to love us to death,” Carter said. “I don’t think that they have bad intentions. I really don’t. I just don’t think we can afford what they’re asking us to do.”
Political Action Committee
Carter is treasurer of a political action committee called Brown County Citizens Against Ranger Tax Annexation. He told the anecdote about his over-watered plant as he explained the purpose of the PAC — actually an S-PAC, or Specific Purpose Political Action Committee — and his opposition to Ranger College’s proposed annexation of Brown County into the Ranger College district.
Representatives of the S-PAC are getting organized and plan to take their message beyond social media posts, Carter said. Carter and fellow S-PAC member Larry Hart spoke on KXYL-Radio Thursday morning, and S-PAC representatives are working to line up opportunities to speak to public groups.
“We’re just now starting to make this push out into the public,” Carter said. “We’ve erected our first two signs. We’re anticipating seeing a lot more advertisement publicly very soon.”
The group has put up a 4-by-4 sign at the base of the Highway 377 overpass in Brownwood and an identical sign on Coggin Avenue, and other signs are going out. The group is also working on lining up billboard messages.
Ranger College’s proposal
Voters in Brown, Erath and Comanche counties will go to the polls on Nov. 7 to cast ballots in separate elections. Early voting begins Oct. 23. The results in each county will stand on their own. If voters approve the annexation in any of the counties, Ranger College will begin levying a property tax in that county — 11 cents per $100 valuation beginning in January 2019, the college says.
Ranger College has said it will keep a presence at its current location at Heartland Mall but will expand into Brownwood and have a campus in the former Bank of America building if Brown County voters approve the annexation. The 11-cent tax rate would generate $2.8 million for the college, funding the expansion into Brownwood and enabling the college to provide new programs and a better trained workforce, the college has said.
The new revenue stream would also enable the college to reduce tuition by 50 percent for all residents of the college district and reduce dual enrollment from $80 to $25 per credit hour.
The college’s proposal has generated a fierce opposition that has included a Facebook group called Citizens Against Ranger Tax Annexation. Carter said the group has nearly 9,000 members, and the Facebook group led to the formation of an S-PAC in each of the three counties.
“The Facebook group is what really initiated the whole process and it just really got us together,” Carter said.
Carter acknowledged there is a large diversity of opinions in the Facebook group, with many reasons stated by members for opposing the annexation. “To be honest, there are people in that group who’ve got a separate agenda that goes beyond this election, I think,” Carter said.
Carter said he has no desire to conduct a witch hunt against the college, and his disagreement with the college’s proposal is based on economics.
“They’ve got good intentions,” Carter said. “But there’s a lot we can do with $2.8 million and that’s what we’re talking about at an 11-cent rate. … That’s $2.8 million that would be coming out and not been spent somewhere else. At the end of the day, can we afford it?”
‘Our taxes are high enough’
Carter noted that the City of Brownwood and Brown County have both increased their respective tax rates for the new fiscal year. “Taxpayers are a little bit fed up with what’s going on with the tax rates, and maybe Ranger College has kind of become a scapegoat in this process,” Carter said.
“That’s a driving factor. I hear it every day when I’m out talking to people. The very first reaction they have is, oh my gosh, our taxes are high enough, and especially for individuals on fixed income.”
Carter said the language that’s going to be on the ballot is confusing, since it will ask taxpayers to approve a tax rate of 43 cents per $100, even though the college says the tax rate will be 11 cents. Carter said he’s “leaving it up to Ranger College to explain … I think they’ve tried really hard to explain it, but I’m still confused about it.
“ … I think Ranger’s trying to tell us that the debt service will be included in the 11 cents, but that’s a little different from what they have in their service plan. … I imagine that they will recommend an 11-cent rate and somehow the debt service will be rolled up into that.”
Ranger College has said the ballot will ask taxpayers to approve a 43-cent rate because state law requires the ballot to state the current rate the college levies in its existing taxing district in Eastland County. That district mimics the boundaries of the Ranger Independent School District, Eastland County officials have said.
Former Texas Secretary of State general counsel Trey Trainor addressed that issue in a Sept. 14 letter to Ranger College president Dr. Bill Campion. Trainor referenced Ranger College’s service plan that states a proposed rate of 11 cents.
State law does not allow taxes to be assessed retroactively, so taxpayers in newly annexed territory would not be liable at the current Ranger College rate of 43 cents, Trainor’s letter stated.
The Texas Constitution requires all jurisdictions that have voted to be in the Ranger College level to be taxed at the same level, Trainor wrote. “Should voters in Brown, Comanche and/or Erath County approve joining the Ranger College District, their tax rate would be $.11 per 100 assessed property value as the Ranger College Board of Trustees has stated publicly,” Trainor’s letter states. “In fact, in order to avoid significant legal liability, the new total tax rate adopted in August 2018 can be no greater that $.11 per $100 of assessed value.”
‘A forever deal’
But Carter noted, “I just think it’s detrimental to our economy. I think it’s detrimental to our senior citizens. I just don’t think the perceived benefits outweigh the costs.”
While Ranger is offering a “minuscule $5,000 exemption” for people over 65,” Carter said, “this is going to impact every citizen in our county … now we’re talking about doing another increase, and not just an increase — a new taxing authority that’s going to be here forever.
“When I look at annexation, I’m not just looking at the one-year rate. What you’re signing up to is a forever deal. It’s not even a lifetime deal. This deal lasts us for the rest of our lives and our grandchildren and anyone afterward. It’s not just that initial rate. It’s every year — what can it do?”
Carter said he knows people who work at Ranger College and he respects them. “At the end of this election, we’re all neighbors and we’re going to have to work together and solve our problems,” Carter said.
“I’m not about fireworks. I love Brown County.”