|McALLEN, November 1 - Keith Patridge, president and CEO of McAllen Economic Development Corporation, has come out firmly in support of South Texas College’s $159 million bond and maintenance proposition.
“STC has probably been one of the biggest drivers in our efforts to recruit new business, new investment to the area. A real key to our job is… to have a skilled, trained, workforce and without STC we would not be competitive in that arena,” Patridge said, an interview with reporter Ron Whitlock for the Ron Whitlock Reports show airing on XERA 9 Cable 19 Televisa this weekend.
The 30-minute special on the STC election airs at 7 a.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m. on Sunday. It can also be seen online at www.ronwhitlock.com
The citizens of Hidalgo and Starr counties will vote on the bond and maintenance measure next Tuesday, Nov. 5. Voters are being asked to consider two propositions.
Proposition No. 1 asks voters if they support the issuance of $159,028,940 million in 20-year general obligation bonds to fund the construction and equipping of new classrooms, science and health care training labs, technical training facilities and student support services at all the College’s campuses. A tax rate increase of one-half cent will be necessary to fund the general obligation bonds for the construction of equipping of new facilities.
Proposition No. 2 asks voters if they support a three-cent increase in the annual tax rate to pay for the increased maintenance and operation costs associated with the operation of the new facilities, growth in student enrollment, new faculty, and expanded programs.
Rose Benavidez chairs South Texas College’s board of trustees. She also serves as president of Starr County Industrial Foundation, the county’s economic development agency. Benavidez gives STC full credit for turning around her county’s economic fortunes.
“I do economic development for Starr County. Ten years ago, when I first started on that job, I was working in a community that had 36 percent unemployment, very little industry, very little retail. Fast forward ten years we were able to reduce the unemployment to nine percent. The first time in history Starr County has had single digit unemployment,” Benavidez said.
“The vast majority of the credit goes to South Texas College and having higher education opportunities in our own community.”
Benavidez told Whitlock that her work in economic development is made easier because of STC. Company executives are much more interested in coming to Starr County, she said, because they know a trained workforce will be available. “Businesses do well because of education and training for their labor force and more importantly because the economy is self-sufficient and sustainable with a well-rounded labor force,” she said.
On the Whitlock/Televisa show, STC President Shirley Reed talks about what the $159 million bond issue will mean. “It is a three and a half cent increase to the tax rate for South Texas College. If you have a $100,000 home that will be a $35 a year increase on your tax rate,” Reed explained. She also pointed out that the tax rate cannot be increased without voter approval. She said for those aged 65 or over and those who are disabled, taxes are frozen. “It is a very conservative package. We are very mindful that nobody wants increased taxes. We feel this is a modest increase that will allow the college to continue and grow,” Reed said.
Reed said STC has developed a master plan and that the bond issue will fund the college’s growth for next decade. She said all five STC campuses will benefit from the increased funds, pointing out that STC currently has 100 portable classrooms. “We simply do not have room,” Reed told Whitlock. “If the college is going to continue to respond to the economic development needs of the area, training people for good paying jobs, helping the quality of life of all families, we simply need to grow and expand the college.”
Reed said even if a voter does not have a child, grandchild, nephew or niece at STC, they should support the bond issue. “Even if you have no children going to South Texas College you may need a nurse someday, you may need an EMT, your car may break down, your air conditioning may go out, your computer may fail. Guess who trains all those folks? South Texas College. We are absolutely critical to the economic development and social mobility within this community. We put people to work in good paying jobs and have a very significant economic impact on the region - $204 million a year economic impact on the local community,” Reed said.
The STC bond issue has split the OWLS, an independent watchdog group that covers Hidalgo County government.
“It is a double whammy to the people paying the taxes because your property taxes go up every year and the tax rates can go up whenever they vote to raise the tax rates,” said OWLS member Fern McClaugherty. “If you tax the home out from under their parents or their relatives… which is more valuable an education or their home to live in?” Asked how STC can educate tomorrow’s workforce if it does not have the funding to keep pace with Hidalgo County’s fast growing population, McClaugherty said: “Students should earn more. Have a job, Whataburger. I would rather have a home than someone going to school.”
Virginia Townsend, a co-founder of the OWLS, told Whitlock that she will always back more funding for education. A former school board member, she said she has admiration for the work of teachers in the Valley.
“I always go the distance with education. It is opportunity for a whole lot of people who would not have the opportunity if STC was not there. I am going to support STC,” Townsend said. She added that many students in the Valley cannot afford to go to UT-Pan American and they also cannot afford to leave the Valley to gain a better education. “Their chances are gone so this gives them an opportunity. You put a bond issue for a courthouse and I am going to vote against it, for sure. But not education, I will bite the bullet, whatever it is that it costs me, it is worth it.”
McAllen/Hidalgo County Tea Party has many members opposed to the STC bond issue. Tea Party member Richard Montesdeoca was interviewed by Whitlock for the Televisa program. He has penned a letter to local newspapers opposing tax increases on the November ballot.
“If you are told that because you are 65 years old, you will not be impacted by this property tax, do not believe it. Everyone will be impacted directly or indirectly by increased taxes. The property taxes of HEB, Wal-Mart, Walgreens and all other stores will be increased and they will pass those increases to the customer, you,” Montesdeoca wrote.
“The ability of politicians to think up projects that will increase your cost of living far exceeds your ability to keep pace with rising taxes. The primary question you should ask yourself is: have I received an increase in my income? If not, how are you going to pay more taxes? The question is not, do you want or need the proposed projects, but can you afford them? The individuals that create the statements included in the election notice know that only a few people will vote. They also know that the more information that is made available, the greater the chance that opposition will develop.”
Other speakers on the Whitlock/Televisa special include STC board members Dr. Alejo Salinas, Jr., and Gary Gurwitz. Salinas said about a third of STC’s funding comes from student tuition fees, a third from the State of Texas, and a third from local taxpayers. Salinas has been involved in education for 45 years. He said the STC board will use funding from the bond issue wisely. “It is very important we provide for the students,” Salinas said. Not doing so, he said, leads to more poverty and crime.