Midterms In West Texas: What Ector County ISD's Tax Election Means For You
We're days away from the start of early voting in the November elections. Leading up to that, Marfa Public Radio is bringing you coverage of what you can expect to see on the November ballot.
In Alpine, Odessa and Midland, voters will see their local school district will have issues up for a vote, from bond elections to school board elections.
Marfa Public Radio's Sally Beauvais talks about one of those elections.
Carlos Morales: Hi, Sally.
Sally Beauvais: Hey, Carlos.
CM: So, Sally, we’re here to talk about the upcoming TRE in Ector County. T hat’s for the independent school district in and around Odessa. But I got to know, Sally, what the heck does TRE even stand for?
SB: It stands for Tax Ratification Election.
CM: Okay, got it. It's kind of wonky, it's a lot of words there. So this is another way for schools to raise money, right?
CM: Okay so, yesterday we talked about the bond election in Alpine. And I understand bonds are used specifically to fund building and maintenance projects. So how’s a TRE different?
SB: There a couple differences. Bonds are kind of like loans. So the district takes out a loan, and taxpayers pay it back over time. But when a school district holds a tax ratification election or TRE, the public is actually voting to change the tax rate indefinitely. So there’s no sum to be paid back here. The district will just being taking in more money at the higher tax rate, indefinitely. And that money is usually used for operating costs rather than building costs, so things like increased salaries, supplies, technology improvements, stuff like that.
CM: So when we look at all of this, what are we talking about? What specifically is Ector County ISD proposing and where will people find it on the ballot?
SB: So if you live in Ector County this will be the last item on the ballot. It will be called Proposition A. ECISD is asking to raise the property tax rate from 1 dollar and 15 cents to 1 dollar and 28 cents.
CM: That’s per $100 of property value?
SB: Yeah, that's right. And I know that’s a lot of numbers to hold in your brain here, so basically how this breaks down is if your property is valued at $170,000 — and that’s average in Odessa — you’ll owe an extra $12 a month on your property taxes. The school district has a pretty clear break down of this on their website.
CM: Okay, so that's the math and numbers behind this, Sally. But what is this going towards? What are officials with Ector County ISD, where are they saying this is going to go?
SB: If voters say yes to the tax rate increase, it will raise the school district an extra $18 million next year. With this money, the district wants to pay its employees more. They’d bring the starting teacher salary up to $50,000, and as we know, school districts in the Permian Basin have a hard time holding onto and recruiting teachers. So the district says this will help them stay competitive. That’s a big chunk of that money.
Some would also go towards insurance payments for hail damage to some school buildings over the last couple of years. And then the last small chunk would go towards security. More than half of the schools in the district don’t have controlled-access entrances, so this would enable the district to do more to secure those campuses.
CM: And Sally, as we're getting ready to head into the election here, what are the odds looking like for the TRE in Ector County? If I’m not mistaken, I remember last fall, there was a tax election in Ector County but it failed.
SB: That’s true, the district actually tried to pass a bond and a TRE at the same time last fall, and I think they’ve realized that was too much to ask. So this time around, the tax increase is lower, it's not coupled up with a bond. The district feels like they have more community support. Especially because the schools are seeing this big time enrollment increases — and now there’s a sentiment that these kids who have come in because of the oil boom are here to stay. And they might be more willing to invest more money.
CM: At the same time, you know, school officials have told us that Odessa is a pretty tax-averse community though.
SB: That’s also true. The school district isn’t the only entity in Ector County that can ask for tax increases. And the population growth really strains every part of the community, so. Voters are going to have to decide how much of an increase they are comfortable with, knowing that there could be more ahead.
CM: Well Sally Beauvais, a reporter with Marfa Public Radio, thanks for being here with us
SB: Thanks for sticking with me -- I know this stuff is complicated!
CM: Early voting starts Monday, Oct. 22.