EARLY VOTING BEGINS MONDAY
Bob and Ann Beadel are a retired couple living in rural Brown County.
Barry Carter, Julia Taylor and Carter Sharpe are Brownwood residents in the midst of successful professional careers.
College graduates themselves, all are committed to the concept of higher education and say they are not opposed to Ranger College.
But they are among a large group of residents who oppose Ranger College’s proposal to annex Brown, along with Comanche and Erath counties, into the Ranger College district and levy a property tax – an injurious “forever” tax, opponents say.
“It just keeps adding up,” Sharpe said, referring to the climbing tax rates of other taxing entities. “It’s kind of neat to say I can actually go vote down a tax. I’m very anxious about it. We’re just kind of getting chipped away. We’re boiling the frog here. You want to stop somewhere.”
Voters in all three counties will cast ballots on the annexation of their counties on Nov. 7. Early voting starts Monday morning in the Brown County Elections Office, located in the new courthouse annex just north of the courthouse. Ranger College does not currently levy taxes in any of those counties.
The ballot states voters are approving a property tax rate of 43 cents per $100 valuation if they vote “for” the annexation. Ranger College says the ballot is required, by law, to state the rate that’s levied in the college’s existing district. That’s in a portion of Eastland County, and that rate is 43 cents. The rate will actually be 11 cents if voters approve the annexation, the college says.
Carter, who works as the chief accounting manager at Superior Essex, is chairman of Brown County Citizens Against Ranger Tax Annexation, a special purpose political action committee.
“Over the past few months, I have (talked with) many individuals from all over Brown County, and some in Comanche and Erath County as well,” Carter said. “It’s evident that property and business owners, industry and civic leaders, even some county, city, and local school district officials, are very concerned about the high cost of property taxes and their unsustainable trajectory. Because of this, the annexation of these counties into the Ranger College Tax District is not appealing to the vast majority of the individuals I’ve met.
“A common message I’ve heard repeated is, how can we afford to take on a new property tax? Or, our property taxes are already too high.”
Higher property taxes affect the cost of rent, daycare, hamburgers, haircuts – “everything goes up as businesses have to offset their higher cost of doing business,” Carter said. “Low tax rates are always appealing to businesses and industry looking for a community to grow, and ultimately jobs in the community are threatened when tax rates are high.
“This is a forever tax. Once you elect to join into a tax district, there is no going back. Every Brown County resident, including senior citizens, will be impacted by this new tax.”
The maximum tax rate a junior college can levy is $1 per $100 property valuation – 50 cents for maintenance and 50 cents for debt service, Carter said.
A minimum of $2.8 million in tax revenue would potentially leave Brown County each year, and it would be sent to the Ranger College Board of Regents to determine where and how to spend those funds, Carter said. Noting that would total $56 million over the next 20 years, Carter said nothing requires those tax dollars to be spent in Brown County.
If Brown County joins the college’s district, its representation on the future board of regents can’t be determined until after the election, Carter said.
Carter also noted that Ranger College recently acquired a $10 million bond debt obligation for construction projects. “Annexed territories will participate in paying back that debt with interest,” Carter said. “There is no way for Brown County to avoid repaying that debt. Ranger College is investing heavily in future growth at the main campus in Ranger, which does not help the Brown County economy.”
Bob and Ann Beadel
Bob Beadel is retired from two careers – law enforcement and business. In a joint phone interview, the couple stated their opposition to a new tax. Ann Beadel said the college might be better off taking the money it is spending on the annexation campaign and advertising, and applying that money to its debt.
“We have two colleges already,” Ann Beadel said, referring to Howard Payne University and Texas State Technical College and noting that TSTC doesn’t want to levy a tax. “I don’t think we need a bigger Ranger College presence here. We have a higher percentage of elderly on fixed income. Any tax increase would be heinous in this situation.”
She said a new tax would have a “trickle down” effect and local businesses would be forced to either accept less profit or raise their prices, and there would be less disposable income for the economy.
Bob Beadel said, “My view is, we don’t need a tax increase. We’re not against education in any way and we’re not against a trained work force in any way. For us, fortunately, it would not be a burden at 11 cents. However, there’s one thing certain about taxes: they’re going up. They can set it at any rate they want to up to 43 cents. There’s nothing to guarantee it will only be 11 cents.
“Sure, it’ll be helpful to a few students. Tax annexation is strictly going to hurt a lot more people than it’s going to help.”
Beadel said Ranger College has claimed to be “a good regional partner” and can continue to be a good partner without the annexation. “I’m not sure what they hope to accomplish other than paying off debt and lawsuits,” Beadel said. “They’re good at what they do, and I admire them. They’ve got to be realistic and realize they’ve got to do this on their own rather than getting a tax increase. They’re an asset as it is, and they will continue to be so without this annexation.
“Those who can afford, and want to, support Howard Payne, and they’ve got to get themselves in the same position.”
Beadel said it seems Ranger College is “almost to the point of panicking that it’s not going to pass.”
Voters need to remember that every vote counts, Beadel said. He recalled his election to the Brownwood school board in the early 1990s, when he avoided a runoff by a single vote.
Sharpe is an insurance broker. “Bottom line, I’m opposed,” Sharpe said. “There are several different layers. One, just the tax portion of it. You just think, (we) don’t want any more taxes. This is one of the few times that you really get to vote – whether you’re for it or against it – for a tax or not.
“To have a direct say, that’s really a unique situation, no matter what side of the fence you’re on. To me, it’s kind of exciting from that standpoint.”
Sharpe acknowledged that “in general, everybody is for higher education. It’s an economic stimulus. It’s good for the community. I’m not against that at all.”
Sharpe, who is chairman of the Howard Payne University Board of Trustees, said his support goes to HPU. “Being a private school, I can give voluntarily what I want to give,” Sharpe said. “TSTC is here. They’re doing things Howard Payne or any other four-year institution is not doing. So they complement each other very well.
“I subscribe to the old pure economic free enterprise system where supply and demand come in to play. If you’re not able to supply what the demand is and vice versa … any time you throw in a subsidy – and I just kind of call this tax a subsidy for them – we’re propping them up. So are they really a viable business without that subsidy? I think you let the free market enterprise dictate who wins, who loses and who survives. If you’ve got a product that you can make or break even, then, great, but as soon as you throw a subsidy in, it throws all of that pure economic sense out the window.”
Sharpe continued, “I don’t want to bash Ranger. I don’t have anything against them per se. I just don’t like the way it’s all kind of shaking out.”
Sharpe did not dispute Ranger College’s assertion that there would be a benefit to the community if Ranger College was able to annex Brown County. “It’s just not enough of a benefit to have the cost offset,” Sharpe said. “They say we can have some representation on their board. That’s fine and great, but does that offset the cost? That’s a forever tax, not just this generation but future generations.
“I just really don’t see your return on investment there.”
Sharpe recalled a conversation he had with someone who asked “doesn’t it have some benefit?”
“I said ‘yes it does’ but can you quantify that?” Sharpe said. “I don’t know that you can. You can speculate and you can assume you’ve got a more educated workforce. Does everything rise? Theoretically. But still, that benefit does not offset the cost that’s associated with it.”
Sharpe noted the presence of highly emotional debates on social media, involving “people hiding behind their computers and they’re able to spout off opinions.”
Sharpe said he’s tried to step away from the emotion and look at what he believes are facts. “Does it make economic sense?” Sharpe asked. “It just does not make sense. I don’t have anything negative to say about Ranger. I just don’t see the economic benefit.
“There would be some, but the cost is just too high.”
Taylor is a certified public accountant who said she is “quite conservative” and doesn’t like tax increases to begin with.
“My first thinking is, the economic impact,” Taylor said. “Besides the rising cost of living for us (as) individuals, you also have the rising cost of doing business. To me, this seems like a taxation without representation. While they claim we have members of the community who will be on the (Ranger College) board, it will be a minority interest.”
Taylor said her husband, Ronnie, a geologist, researched the 206 jobs in Brown County that were recently listed online as being open. Two-thirds required specific skills such as welding, bi-lingual or computer – “not necessarily a higher education skill but maybe a technical skill.”
Half the jobs required prior work experience, and 16 required engineering or other four-year degrees, Taylor said. Ranger College graduates “are not going to be able to get a job here right now, as things are now – which will make them go somewhere else to get a job,” Taylor said. “This means we will not have more taxpayers helping us pay the annexation cost.
“If we’re looking to have more of a workforce, it doesn’t appear we’ve got the employers to offset that.”
Taylor continued, “if we’re needing to help our residents get a higher education, I’m all for, maybe, more of a scholarship drive like Howard Payne does, instead of a forever tax. I’m not 100 percent sure we know the future of this tax. The ballot says one thing. We’re being told, oh, no, that’s not right, it’s going to be much less.
“Is it? Where does it stop? It’s unfortunate that city and county and water and everything else kind of got a hickey. You see the closed stores and you see the houses for sale, but the taxes are still being paid on those properties.”
Taylor said if there were “help wanted signs all over town and I could see an impact that they were providing graduates and filling up those jobs, and getting us all the level of employees we need, absolutely, I would reconsider my opinion.”
Taylor said she wasn’t saying she’d outright change her mind on the issue under those conditions. “I don’t like a tax,” Taylor said. “I would reconsider if I felt there was a need. I’m not seeing the need. I’m not a fan of the taxing.”