Board to put senior tax freeze to voters
By Brenda Bernet
Published June 28th 2006 in Amarillo Globe-News
Regents unanimously voted Tuesday night to change the way they are elected from a traditional one-vote-per-place system to a cumulative system voting.
They also voted to put a property tax freeze proposal for elderly and disabled residents before the voters in November.
With cumulative voting, a voter may cast as many votes as there are seats, so in an election for three open seats, a voter could cast one vote for three separate candidates, two votes for one candidate and one vote for another or three votes for one candidate, board chairwoman Lilia Escajeda said.
"It affirms that our at-large election is legal for junior colleges," Escajeda said. "We've chosen to go to cumulative voting."
The Amarillo College board has a history of diversity, but board members have thought for some time they eventually would have to change the way they are elected to reflect the community's changing demographics, Escajeda said. A recent lawsuit brought the issue to the forefront, she said.
"It's the right thing to do," she said. "The future just happened to be now."
The new voting system must be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Mary Lou Robinson and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Regents hope their action will settle the lawsuit filed against the college late last year, college president Steven Jones said.
"We don't know that that's going to resolve any lawsuits," he said.
In December, Abel Bosquez and the Rev. V.P. Perry filed lawsuits against the city of Amarillo and Amarillo College District, alleging that their standard at-large election systems violated federal voting law by diluting minority strength. Both defendants in court documents have denied the violations.
A few months later, J. E. Sauseda, an attorney representing Bosquez and Perry, announced that his clients and the college had reached a settlement agreement that the college would go from an at-large voting system to a cumulative voting system, but college officials said Sauseda's announcement was premature.
"That's a big part of the lawsuit," Sauseda said Tuesday. "We're in agreement that the change is necessary."
Cumulative voting will level the playing field for minorities, he said.
Also on Tuesday, regents unanimously voted to plan for a November election on whether to freeze college district property taxes for residents who are disabled or are at least 65.
College officials verified that petitioners collected at least 5,500 signatures to force the election.
"We would recognize this issue as a significant issue worthy of the consideration of this entire community," Jones said. "We feel that is an appropriate course of action."
Regents also heard a presentation on the preliminary 2006-07 budget, which anticipates expenditures of roughly $44.2 million and revenues totaling roughly $44.6 million.
The proposed budget includes a 3.5-percent raise for full-time college employees and includes $286,866 for removing asbestos and demolishing buildings at the East Campus, said Terry Berg, dean of finance and administration.
The proposed budget also allows for a 4 percent increase for utilities.
The budget would be supported by an Amarillo College district property tax rate of 16.043 cents per $100 of taxable property value, or roughly $160.43 for a homeowner with $100,000 of taxable property value. The proposed tax rate would be the same for fiscal year 2007 as it was in the previous two years.
Although the board will not adopt a budget until August, Jones said the proposed budget is balanced.
"It's hard to balance your budget when you don't raise your tax rate," he said.