Vernon College increases tax rate, gives tax abatement to solar farm

The Vernon College Board of Trustees unanimously set the college’s tax rate for next year at $0.232436 per $100 valuation. The current rate is a penny less, at $0.221055.

The tax rate is the “no new revenue rate”, which used to be called the “effective rate” because it generates the same amount of revenue as last year’s tax rate. The college’s portion of taxes that a property owner will pay on a $100,000 home will go up by approximately $10 next year.

The trustees also approved Savion LLC’s tax abatement application, with a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT), for the Adam’s Creek Solar Project by a vote of 3 to 2. The estimated value of the Solar Farm is $225,000,000.

Trustee Bob Ferguson first made a motion to deny the application, but it died for a lack of a second. Trustee Irl Holt then made a motion to accept the PILOT, with an abatement of 55 percent for the first 10 years on the Adams Creek Solar project. Trustees Holt, Vicki Pennington and Dr. Todd Smith voted for the motion, and trustees James Brock and Ferguson voted against the motion.

The value of a PILOT for the College is that the College will receive a substantial amount of free “non-tax” money. The facility does not go on the tax roll, which would force the College to lower the tax rate due to state rules on the amount of tax money that can be increased year-over-year. The downside is for taxpayers — rejecting the PILOT would substantially lower everyone’s taxes in the county.

The benefit of a PILOT for the company is that they pay much less than if they had to pay taxes on the facility. The trustees debated whether the company would come if they rejected the abatement request, and ultimately decided that getting some money was better the risk of not getting any.

Also, by a 3 to 2 margin, trustees disapproved of the Wilbarger County Appraisal District’s 2021 Approved Budget. Brock, Ferguson and Pennington voted to deny the appraisal district’s budget, while Smith and Holt voted to approve. The vote was largely symbolic, as the majority of taxing entities must disapprove of it for it to fail.

In personnel action, the employment of Jeddediah Fagg as assistant baseball coach and residence hall assistant; Colby Windstead as the assistant rodeo coach; and Melissa Williams as an administrative assistant for continuing education at Century City Center were approved, as was the transfer of Delilah Fowler from Classified II, counseling at Century City Center to admissions/registrar specialist. The resignation of Sherrice Hall was also accepted. A consultation was held with attorney Chris Lehman, with no action President Dusty Johnston said.

Trustees were presented preliminary enrollment figures for the current fall semester, which showed a slight decrease from the number of students enrolled in the fall semester, 2019.

Amanda Raines told the trustees there are a total of 2,800 students enrolled this fall, compared to 2,933 students at the same time last year That is a decrease of 4.53 percent. The Vernon campus had a decrease of over 10 percent from last year. While all of the college’s campus sites, along with high school dual credit, saw a decrease, the total of students taking internet classes is up 45.6 percent when compared to last fall. This year there are 747 students enrolled in online courses, compared to 513 students in the fall of 2019.

The college’s amount of contact hours for the fall also dropped 4.84 percent when compared to 2019. President Dr. Dusty Johnston said the college was performing better than the average statewide, which showed a decline of 10 to 12 percent from last fall.

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