Debate over cost of Round Rock ISD bond proposal heats up

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Early voting for Round Rock’s $572 million bond proposal for a long list of projects and a new high school begins Monday. Ahead of the vote, we’re taking a closer look at a local group’s accusation that the district is misleading the voters.

To learn details of all the projects; click here.

In three years, officials say it will increase the average property tax bill by $27 a year. We took a closer look at the small print in the bond presentation. The district expects home values to increase 9 percent next year and then 6 percent in 2019 and 6 percent in 2020.

Patrick McGuinness from the group Round Rock Parents and Taxpayers says the rising appraisals, the tax rate increase and the interest on the debt over 25 years will be closer to his number: a $348 per year increase from today.

“They are riding these high appraisal increases and they are using that to pay for this bond but they are not representing that as the cost of the bond,” said McGuinness.

KXAN asked him why he’s including home value increases, which the school district doesn’t control.

“The total dollars is what’s in their control,” he said, “we could be lowering the tax rate to compensate for these large appraisal increases.”

Corey Ryan from Round Rock ISD says they have a third party do the projections and have community oversight.

“We’re the only Central Texas school district that’s AAA rated by both Moody’s and Fitch and that’s because of some of the financial practices we have in place to make sure we’re benefiting taxpayers in Round Rock.” said Ryan earlier this month.

Last year, Williamson County home values rose 8 to 10 percent, that’s likely to continue. Appraisal rates will drive up Round Rock tax bills whether this bond passes, or not.

Before this bond, Round Rock taxpayers have been carrying more of the financial burden because the state government is giving less money to school districts across the board. In the past five years, state funds have gone down by $35 million. The district expects to give around $10 million back to the state through the state’s “Robin Hood” system this year.

Big ticket items

Monday in downtown Round Rock, the chamber of commerce gathered business leaders, parents and district supporters to urge voters to approve the bond in early voting. Catherine Hanna, who runs the PAC supporting the bond — Classrooms for Kids — says while some of the projects could be paid for through appraisal increases, they need the extra money from the bond for the big ticket items; a new high school and an aquatic center.

“The great innovative programs, those don’t happen. They don’t happen as quickly and the students will have to wait,” said Hanna.

“Our property taxes are already out of control. We need to be reducing taxes,” said Don Zimmerman in an interview with KXAN responding to Hanna.

He says Round Rock ISD’s bond proposal of $572 million is far too big and they could get by with less.

“We say clearly that our need for affordability outweighs this exorbitant bond. The bond is double what it needs to be and it’s questionable if we need to have it or not,” said Zimmerman.

Hanna says if Zimmerman won out, Round Rock ISD would be crowded and not up to par with what it is today.

“This is the fourth bond I’ve been involved in. Mr. Zimmerman has been opposed to every single one of them and if what Mr. Zimmerman said came true, we wouldn’t be the destination district that we are. He’s been wrong every time,” said Hanna.

Classrooms for Kids released a statement that said: “The Betterment of Round Rock is made up of caring volunteers, whose mission is to support initiatives that ensure the continued high quality-of-life that Round Rock has enjoyed.  They felt that our efforts aligned with that mission, so they wanted to assist us with a contribution. Knowing the quality of the people involved with Betterment of Round Rock, we have no doubt that if there is some reporting mistake they are working to rectify the situation as we speak.”

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