Taxpayers group led by Don Zimmerman criticizes Round Rock school bond

Community members say district not honest.

A group advocating against the $572 million Round Rock school district bond package on the May 6 ballot says the district isn’t giving residents the full cost they can expect to pay if the bonds pass.

But officials with the school district say the critics’ calculations are off, in part because they fail to include the taxes paid by businesses and the growth expected in the tax base from rising values and new development.

At issue is the Round Rock district’s estimate that the bonds, if approved, would cost the owner of a $290,000 home an extra $26.75 in taxes a year.

During a press conference hosted Wednesday by the Travis County Taxpayers Union, a taxpayers’ advocacy group headed by former Austin City Council Member Don Zimmerman, the bond package’s critics suggested the tab would be much more.

Roger Falk, who was one of several speakers at the event, said the Round Rock school district expects its tax rate to rise by 1 cent per $100 property valuation by 2020, but “that doesn’t even come close to raising the kind of money this bond is going to require.”

He argued the increase will likely be closer to $300 a year or more.

“There’s a certain level of dishonesty and deception going on in selling these bond packages,” Falk said.

Zimmerman noted homeowners will be paying a larger tax bill regardless of the tax rate increase, sinceproperty appraisals continue to risein Central Texas.

“The people doing this ought to be fired for misinformation,” he said.

After the press conference, Round Rock school district spokesman Corey Ryan said groups opposing the bond failed to take district growth and increasing property values into account when making their calculations.

A tax rate analysis by the district estimates taxable property values will increase by 9 percent in 2018 and 6 percent in 2019 and 2020. Ryan said those estimates are conservative.

The district is projecting a debt service tax rate increase of 1 cent per $100 valuation, which will take place in 2020.

Ryan said the group also isn’t taking into account that the district will sell bonds separately with varying maturities and interest rates for bond financing, and that the district will pay down existing debt at the same time.

The critics’ calculations also fail to consider the business community, which is 42 percent of the tax base, he said. District staffers have had several conversations on the calculations with the community members, he said.

Ryan noted the school district has received AAA bond ratings from both the Fitch Group and Moody’s credit rating agencies due to its stringent financial practices.

“That’s because of some of the financial practices we have in place,” he said.

He said a bond oversight committee made up of community members allowed for community oversight and transparency in the bond process. Bond financing calculations were also approved by a third-party financial advisor, he said.

What’s on the ballot

Voters in the Round Rock school district will decide May 6 whether to approve three school bond proposals totaling $572 million for various infrastructure and improvement projects:

• At $381.6 million, Proposition 1 focuses on growth, renewal and safety. It includes $150 million for a sixth district high school and auditorium, $32 million for a 35th elementary school and $79.8 million for districtwide improvements to aging facilities. Estimated property tax increase for the average homeowner*: $17.85 a year.

• At $133.6 million, Proposition 2 addresses innovation and growth. It features $25 million for a districtwide career tech high school and $20 million to expand athletics and add six classrooms to Canyon Vista Middle School, among other projects. Estimated property tax increase for an average homeowner*: $6.25 a year.

• At $56.8 million, Proposition 3 focuses on fine arts and athletics needs. Projects include $22 million for a districtwide indoor aquatics center and $8 million for future district land purchases, along with other items. Estimated property tax increase for an average homeowner*: $2.65 a year.

Source: Estimated costs provided by Round Rock school district.

* The average home within the school district has a taxable property value of $290,000.

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