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Some see Victoria College's $22 million bond as beacon for workers

By KBell
April 28, 2012 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated April 28, 2012 at 11:29 p.m.


VC FINANCES

At the end of the fiscal year in August, Victoria College held about $16.8 million in debt, said Keith Blundell, vice president of administrative services.About $12 million of that debt stems from tax obligations, like what would come about with the proposed bond. When the state organized community colleges, it intended for buildings to be financed by bonds backed by property taxes, Blundell said."When they originally gave us authority to tax, it was to build and maintain facilities," he said.In March, Standard & Poor's upgraded VC's credit rating to AA noting the college's presence in a stable regional economy, good income levels, a history of operating surpluses and good revenue diversity with flexibility in property tax rates.A 2009 economic impact study also found that VC returned about $1.60 in economic benefit for every $1 of tax money the college received.

Victoria College is asking taxpayers for $22 million to build an 80,000-square-foot Emerging Technology Center.

VC's board of trustees voted in March to place the general obligation bond on the May 12 ballot, saying the initiative meets a growing demand for workforce and continuing education training.

VC has 6,753 students in its continuing education program, a 42 percent increase since 2009. The number of students enrolled in workforce training, which includes things like industrial trades, law enforcement, real estate and truck driving, surpasses the number of students enrolled in academic courses, which grew 12 percent to about 4,514 students.

During that time, the amount of contract training courses, like the agreement VC has with Caterpillar to train some 350 new employees in the coming months, also spiked 45 percent.

"We're looking at the trend and trying to meet the need, and we think the way to do it is this Emerging Technology Center," VC President Tom Butler said.



The Details

In anticipation of the Emerging Technology Center, the Victoria City Council recently voted to transfer 10 acres to the college from its second business park development project on Lone Tree Road. The center would face the new Caterpillar plant, but also be designed with so-called rapid response labs that could be set up and customized to meet the needs of other employers in search of training.

"It becomes a beacon that expresses Victoria's ability to train new workers," said Dale Fowler, president of the Victoria Economic Development Corporation. "We absolutely cannot bring more new companies into the community if we can't show evidence that we can train new employees for them."

The facility would include welding and computer labs, traditional classroom space and rooms for large-scale corporate training events. It would create a home for all workforce and continuing education training, freeing up space on a landlocked campus for academic programs.

Butler also noted the center would serve VC's longtime partners, like petrochemical, manufacturing and oil and gas companies.

Elton Calhoun, who owns Regional Steel, said his company has been working with VC to train truck drivers for about five years. The Emerging Technology Center would provide jobs, as well as benefit businesses both big and small, who he said are strapped for training opportunities.

"This is a great opportunity for us to move further into the 21st century with good training facilities," he said. "I feel like without this, Victoria can't move forward ."



The Money

The $22 million bond would be funded by property taxes in VC's taxing district, which coincides with Victoria County's taxing district.

The owner of a $100,000 home would pay about $30 more per year in property taxes, should the bond pass.

That number could be less if the bond's interest rate is lower than the projected 3.25 percent or if tax appraisals are higher than current valuations.

The bond, which has a 20-year term, would add about 2.97 cents to the college's current tax rate of 16 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Voters approved in May 2006 a $15.5 million bond that built the Health Science Center and renovated the Allied Health building and the Fine Arts building. It also has a 20-year term.



Pros and Cons

But some, like Victoria resident Jack Mullins are outspoken against any increase in taxes.

"I think they've been spending money like it's been going out of style for years now," he said. "It's on top of tax bills that are too high."

Mullins, 77, would be exempt from this tax increase because of Texas' homestead exemption for those over 65 years old. But he said he'll feel the pinch in other ways.

"That doesn't mean it's frozen when I walk in to buy goods or services at a store here in Victoria," he said. "They're going to have higher taxes on their business property, and guess who's going to pay for it? Not them, me."

Still, Fowler maintains the Emerging Technology Center would be beneficial to every citizen in the community.

"All of the things that we love about our community - the great medical services, the safety with good fire, police and EMS, the good infrastructure with roads - the only way we get to maintain this community is to grow it. And the only way we can grow it is to bring in new companies," he said.

The center would also give young people an opportunity to stay in the area, Fowler said.

"What Victoria College does currently and will do more of with this center is to train people to do the jobs that are in the region currently, so that helps keep young people here," he said.

MaryAnn Hale, 35, saw firsthand how more training opportunities could benefit young people in the area. Because VC's welding classes fill up the schedule at the Victoria campus, Hale said she made the drive to Port Lavaca to take non-credit welding classes through the college. While there, she met a slew of young people taking welding classes outside of VC.

"I got financial aid, so I was able to take it with Victoria College. At that other place, they don't take financial aid, and it's really expensive," she said. "A lot of people, they don't want to go to college for four years. They want to get a skill in 10 months ... There are a lot of benefits to (the Emerging Technology Center) being in Victoria. There's a big demand for it."

Early voting is April 30 through May 8, with election day on May 12.

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