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February 6, 2003     Hays Free Press
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February 6, 2003
 

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Page 2 The Free Press Current Events February 6, 2003 Sign ordinance debate tops low-key Buda council meeting BY BRErCr STRONG Staff Writer B UDA- The biggest debate in front of the Buda city council Tuesday night centered on the sign ordinance, but it was policy, rather than politics, that dominated the discussion. Donna Martin-Brace, a member of Buda's Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), asked for coun- cil's approval of a Feb. 25 meeting with members of Scenic Texas to discuss loopholes in the city's sign ordinance. The proposed date was typed in an e-mall, which Brace handed to Buda Mayor John Trube. A spirited debate ensued amongst councilwoman Cathy Chilcote, councilman Hutch White and councilman Chuck Murphy. Much of the discussion was geared towards more clear communication between the P&Z, the Buda Area Chamber of Commerce (BACC) and council regarding the sign ordinance. When cooler heads prevailed, the sides agreed to keep better communication in gener- al, and particularly regarding the sign ordinance. Members of the BACC and council were invited to attend a session on Feb. 25 to hear discussion regarding the sign ordinance. The P&Z will then take a vote on its recommendation to council for the March 4 council meeting. Also discussed during Tuesday's meeting were the new traffic regula- tions along Loop 4 during the 45-60 day drainage project-related roadwork. The speed limit will be lowered from 50 mph to 30 mph one-half mile on either side of the intersection at Sequoyah Street. In other developments: Council held the first of two pub- lic hearings for the zoning change from agricultural to medium density for the property located on FM 967, common- ly known as the Cullen Tract. The city will post a public hearing notice regarding the city's impact fees. The public hearing is scheduled for March 11. The city canvassed the votes for the Feb. 1 rollback election. Voters moved overwhelmingly, 227-98, to roll back the city's property tax rate to 13.1 cents per $100 of assessed value from 21.99 cents. Hays CISD to wait out legi:00h :mre on Robin Hood issue BY BILL PETERSON Editor USTIN - All around Texas, public school districts are holding their breath about the furore, especially those districts with low property wealth. And they have no idea when they'll be able to exhale. Tuesday, the Public Education Committee at the Texas House of Representatives voted, 6-2, to repeal the state's public school equalization provi- sions, popularly known as Robin Hood. However, the committee has proposed nothing in its place. "Everything is on the table," said the committee chair, Arlington Republican Kent Grusendorf, who has suggested that the state might be served to look into a statewide property or income tax towards funding schools. The measure calls for Robin Hood to be repealed no later than Sept. 1, 2005. While prohibiting school districts from levying operating taxes at that point, they still would be allowed to tax for building debt. Hays CISD Director of Finance Annette Folmar said the death of Robin Hood, with noth- ing in its place, would seriously compromise school districts attempting to plan for even the near term. "The thought that they would pass a law putting an end to the state funding system, it's discon- certing," Folmar said. "...If the 'do not harm' principle doesn't hold, we could really be upside down." The Hays CISD is a benefi- ciary of Robin Hood, which pro- vides that school districts with $305,000 per student in property value must turn over the excess to the state, which redistributes the money to property poor dis- tricts. The Hays CISD has $156,861 in property value per student. As Grusendorf attempts to force the legislature to take action by doing away with Robin Hood and forcing a replacement, some of his colleagues believe that's the wrong approach. "The thing that bothers me about (the bill)," said Houston Democrat Scott Hochberg, a Bond Package Opponents, from page 1 issue last week. Leander ranks 216th in the state in property wealth. Of course, the average of debt per student decreases with every year the Hays CISD keeps adding students. But if the growth doesn't come, the debt won't go away. The school district says it can't wait until the legislature decides how it will fund public education before starting new building projects, because the dis- trict's growth is real. The district has grown by about 600 students per year for the last five years. Probably, the.school district can make do with the buildings online for a couple years. However, the district has geared its planning, including the school district attendance zones, based on passage of this month's bond. That means the bond's fail- ure could necessitate another round of redistricting, which is a painful process that stands to make a lot of parents unhappier than they already are. Maybe the school district shouldn't have been making assumptions, but that's for the voters to decide. When Lchrnan High School opens in 2004, it will have enough room to alleviate crowding at Wallace Middle School for a cou- ple years. But probably no longer than that. Beyond that, there's always portables. Bond opponents say the Hays CISD is unable to pay more than 43 percent of its expenditures for instruction because of high debt. Yes and no. Instructional expenditures and bond debt are paid from two dif- ferent taxes, though it all comes out the same on the property tax bill. On the Maintenance and Operations (M&O) side of the tax, which funds instruction, the Hays CISD levies $1.30 per $100 of assessed value. Many school dis- tricts levy the state maximum of $1.50. The Hays CISD could easi- ly raise its M&O rate to $1.50 and thereby increase the percentage of its budget spent on instruction. But who would want to pay it? Basically the school bond comes down to a bet. If the school district doesntt grow, then not only are new buildings unnecessary, but property owners will be stuck with ever-higher taxes to pay for them. However, if the school dis- trict does grow and the buildings aren't provided beforehand, then the school district's facilities will be woefully inadequate. Dr. Pat Gussman, the demog- rapher retained by the Hays CISD, told the school board last week that Hays ranks third in growth for Central Texas school districts from September 2001 to September 2002. The Hays CISD growth rate of 7.13 trails only Manor (13.07 percent) and Leander (7.37 percent). Some districts in Central Texas are shrinking, like San Marcos (0.35 percent) and Eanes (1.9 percent). Austin increased 1.18 percent. Gussman said the general population growth in the Austin area is taking on a peculiar shape, since it isn't occuring evenly from the center of Austin. Instead, she said, the growth is happening along major arterials. Hence, the large increases in Leander, which is on U.S. Hwy. 183, and Manor, which is on U.S. Hwy. 290. The Hays CISD is on the heavyweight of the local arterials, IH-35. Of course, that doesn't explain the decline in San Marcos. Going back to the 2001 bond, many have criticized the school board for selling $53.4 million in capital depreciation bonds on which the district would make no payments until 2001. Those critics don't give the rea- son for structuring the debt that way. The district alreadyVwas car - rying $6.6 million in debt service per year for 2002 through 2007 from previous bond issues. By deferring more than half of the 2001 bond issue until 2011, the district increased its debt service by about $3 million per year from 2002 through 2004, then by about $5.5 million from 2005 through 2007. The deferred bonds allow the school district to even out the total debt service from all its bond issues, so it will whittle off between $9 million and $12 mil- lion per year until the 2001 bonds are retired. If the district hadn't deferred $53.4 million in bonds for ten years, then the debt ser- vice in the future would be con- siderably lower - as would the total interest payments - but today it would be much higher. And if you don't like your tax bill today, imagine what it would be like if those bonds hadn't been deferred. 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It's no different if the courts point the gun, or if we do." Folmar echoed a number of witnesses before the committee, who questioned the usefulness of killing Robin Hood without putting a specific, constructive program on the table. "It would be good so you could have a comparison," Folmar said. "You could say, 'Here's a new program.' You can compare them, see how they stack up against each other." Many witnesses before the committee expressed concern that a new school funding mech- anism would fail to preserve the principle of equalization, which is supposed to ensure that all children receive an adequate education. However, Grusen- doff said the legislature would be bound to equalization. "If we were bound by court order, we would continue to be bound by those considerations in the future," Grusendorf said. But that didn't stop witness- es from arguing against the measure. 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