Beginning Monday voters across Brown County will head to the polls to weigh in on the referendum that has dominated discussion in Brown County and across the region for the past several months.

In exchange for a property tax rate of 11 cents per $100 valuation, as stated in a Board of Regents resolution last month, Ranger College says it will lower tuition costs, expand its course offerings and create a new main campus in Brownwood, possibly in the former Bank of America building downtown.

Bert Massey is a former longtime mayor of Brownwood, a partner at Massey & West and the chairman of Ranger College’s advisory committee in Brown County. Though Massey now supports the Ranger College referendum, he said there was a time during his tenure as mayor when he was far less impressed with the college — and fought to keep them out of Brown County.

“Long before the current administration at Ranger, the junior colleges finally had the votes to pass legislation creating service areas,” Massey explained. “And Brown County was to be in Ranger’s service area.

“I was so not in love with the Ranger administration that I tried very hard to keep us out of that service area. I tried to keep us a standalone county so we could do what we wanted to and weren’t forced to deal with one particular junior college or the other,” he said.

But Massey didn’t have the clout to win that battle — the legislature wanted every county in a service area to keep junior colleges from bickering over territory. So despite Massey’s efforts, Brown County became part of Ranger’s service area, though not its taxing district.

When Ranger’s administration changed years later, they approached Massey and left him “impressed.”

“And then that president went on his way and Dr. [William] Campion comes along,” Massey said. “He began to talk to me about Ranger and what it could do in Brown County … and I began to be very impressed by the people that I met that he had hired.”

Eventually Massey was convinced. He told Ranger that if they held an election, he would try to help them. “As those people spoke to us at advisory board meetings I thought, ‘OK, they’ve got it together. Now they’re ready to go.’”

Massey said his support for Ranger stems from his belief that there’s no such thing as “too much education.” He views Ranger as a nice compliment to the liberal arts education of Howard Payne and the technical training of TSTC.

“I came to the conclusion a long time ago that not everyone is meant to go to a four-year college,” he said. “But everybody needs a high school education and then skills that allow them to make better money than they could if they were totally untrained. So I was impressed that Ranger got into that business.”

He also said he was impressed by the rapid expansion of dual-credit offerings for high school students and by Ranger’s unique ability to offer those students Pell Grants. Pell Grants are need-based college subsidies administered by the government, and Ranger is currently the only school in Texas that can offer them for dual-credit courses.

Massey said the additional taxes caused by the referendum would affect him “like they would anyone else.”

“I own a house and I own a building, so my taxes are going to go up,” Massey said. “But I’m willing to pay it for the purpose of the growth and development of Brown County.”

Massey said he’s not surprised by the referendum’s opposition — there’s opposition to every proposal he ever saw, he said. “That’s what happens in an election,” he said. “I don’t know the leaders of the opposition, but I’m sure they’re all good people.”

He said his only real surprise is the “vehemence” of some of the opposition. “Eleven cents per $100 of valuation doesn’t really cost a lot of money,” he said. “But they’re entitled to their opinion, just as I’m entitled to mine.”

A Ranger spokesman and several pro-annexation citizens declined to comment for this article, but Ranger has released details of its proposal in a service plan that can be viewed at docs.rangercollege.edu/servicebrown.pdf. If the referendum passes, Ranger says tuition and fees will drop from $524 to $380 for a 3 credit hour course. Dual-enrollment costs will drop from $80 to $25 per credit hour.

In addition, Ranger says Brown County will gain representation on its Governing Board of Trustees. Brown County would immediately become the largest entity in Ranger’s service area, and Ranger says its representation would be commensurate with its population.

Comanche and Erath counties will also vote on joining Ranger’s taxing district alongside Brown County.

Massey said he’s not concerned with a bait-and-switch tactic from Ranger, promising an 11-cent rate only to charge a much higher one. “I”m not very worried about the fact that they’ll keep their word,” he said. “If they were to try to go higher than [11 cents], they’d probably get sued and they’re certainly going to get a lot of grief.”

He said nontraditional students may benefit the most from Ranger’s technical training and evening classes, which he said will keep them viable employees in the ever-changing industrial workplace. “I think the thing to do is to try and make your county the very best it can be.”

Election day is Nov. 7. Early voting will run from Oct. 23 to Nov. 3. at the new Elections Office at 613 N. Fisk in Brownwood.