Our commitment to Cass County

I can’t believe Election Day is almost here. 
I imagine you are as ready for this election to be over as I am! I must say, though, that I have enjoyed meeting so many new people during the Texarkana College annexation process, and I have made many new friends. 
Yes, there have been some tense moments during some of my presentations, but I have grown to respect some of those who are adamantly against joining the TC district. We may disagree on this issue, but we can all agree that East Texas is a great place to live.
After the Atlanta Glow Run, I stopped at a local restaurant on Hwy. 59 to get dinner. The cashier saw my TC shirt and told me she was a McLeod High School senior. She had researched college options and was working toward graduating in the top 10 of her class so she could receive the TC Presidential Scholarship, a donor-funded award given by the TC Foundation that pays for a student’s first two years of college. When she finishes at TC, she plans to transfer to a university and ultimately become a veterinarian.
I was impressed. This high school student is working part-time, studying hard, has researched college options and scholarship opportunities, and has a plan and vision for her future. 
I know Cass County is full of hard-working young people just like her. 
I also know there are many people in Cass County who have been out of school for some time and want to pursue careers that will allow them to build better lives for themselves and their families.
I think that helps answer the question so many people have asked me over the past several months: why does TC want to expand its presence in Cass County, and why are we working so hard to inform the public about this measure? 
The very simple answer is that we think Cass County is a wonderful place to live, worship, work, play, and raise a family, and there are people of all ages in Cass County whose lives would be changed for the better if more people had access to higher education. 
Data is very clear on the impact an uneducated workforce has on a community. Low education rates lead to higher crime, higher poverty, higher risk of drug and alcohol abuse, and shorter lifespans. Don’t take my word for it—do your own research, find an expert you trust, and look at the data. It’s overwhelming what a college education can do for a person’s life and how it can impact a community’s overall quality of life.
That’s why we’ve proposed this partnership. That’s why you’ve seen advertisements and received mailings paid for by the TC Foundation, the donor-funded nonprofit organization that already invests in this area by awarding scholarships to students like the young lady from McLeod. 
Whether your community wants to partner with TC to make an investment in higher education is entirely your choice.
If this annexation election is successful, here is how we are committed to helping increase the number of people in Cass County with a higher education credential.
We’ll open a new technical training site in Cass County offering certificates in industrial maintenance/multi-craft, welding, cosmetology, truck driving, and vocational nursing, with room to add more based on local business needs.
High school students in this area will have access to more dual-credit classes than ever before, meaning they’ll have the opportunity to earn more college credit while in high school at a fraction of the cost of typical college tuition.
Cass County students in TC’s service area will pay lower in-district tuition rates, saving an average of $3,000 over two years.
Your area will have immediate representation on the TC Board of Trustees, and you’ll have the opportunity to vote in upcoming Trustee elections.
Bringing these programs and service to Cass County would cost the average homeowner about $7 per month, based on a $75,000 home. You can calculate your estimated property tax (or your landlord’s) at texarkanacollege.edu/cass. 
Senior citizens would pay the tax on the value of their home as of Jan. 1, 2017, less a $5,000 exemption on that property. Then, the amount they pay on that home would be frozen and would never increase (unless they make a major addition to the home).
And will the tax rate ever go up in the future? At some point, yes. The law allows for small increases, but we are very proud to have the lowest community college tax rate in East Texas and one of the lowest in the state. 
The TC Board of Trustees has a long history of very infrequent, very conservative tax increases. 
On texarkanacollege.edu/cass, you’ll find a presentation that outlines our proposed budget for the income this tax would generate for the next 15 years. It includes the cost of lowering Cass County students’ tuition to the in-district rate, the debt service for the expected $4 million we would spend purchasing and renovating the Cass County site, and the site’s employees, supplies, maintenance and repairs. 
After 15 years, we would expect to invest in updated equipment to keep our programs current and accommodate new programs. Every dime of Cass County tax income would be spent to benefit Cass County residents.
We expect that the costs of these services in Cass County will be higher than the income we would receive from this tax. That’s an investment we’re willing to make.
This is a tough issue. 
Nobody likes paying higher taxes. But I’m a firm believer that an education transforms a person from a tax receiver to a taxpayer. East Texas has the lowest percentage of people with a higher education credential in the state, and we want to change that. 
We’re all in. 
Are you? 
I am available to answer any questions about this issue. Feel free to call my office at 903-823-3198, my cell at 903-278-2150, or email me at jhr@texarkanacollege.edu.

James Henry Russell is the president of Texarkana College.  

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