As is his custom, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley opened his portion of the Chamber’s State of the County luncheon Sept. 5 at the Worthington Renaissance Fort Worth Hotel with two items.
1) A salute to all military veterans and special recognition for Vietnam vets;
2) Strong condemnation of any kind of domestic violence, with special praise for District Attorney Sharen Wilson and her prosecutors.
A healthier county
Judge Whitley asked for support of the recently authorized bond election for the issuance of up to $800 million to acquire, construct, improve, equip and enlarge facilities of the Tarrant County Hospital District (TCHD), operating as the JPS Health Network. The hospital district will contribute an additional $300-to-$400 million dollars over a 10 year period to assist in the program. The property tax rate will not increase as a result of this package.
The last bond improvement election for the hospital district was over 33 years ago in 1985. The population today is close to one million more, 2.054 million up from 1.043 million then.
“I’m very proud the District provides the largest portion of uninsured care in Tarrant County. It’s one of the few public hospitals certified for care in the areas of stroke, sepsis, and acute myocardial infarction (heart attack),” he said.
* Every 2.5 seconds, a patient need is cared for by the TCHD;
* At present, TCHD is only able to serve 37 percent of the county’s in-patient mental and behavioral health needs;
* Demand for cancer patient treatment has increased 77 percent the last 10 years.
* TCHD is the main area training facility for local doctors, nurses and other healthcare provider specialists.
* Because of its size and population growth, there is a need for more community health centers in suburban areas.
Election Day is Nov. 6; early voting is Oct. 22 thru Nov. 2.
Looking ahead to the 2019 State Legislature session
Judge Whitley was asked what Tarrant County should be asking from legislators during the 2019 session which begins in January. He focused on three main areas.
1: Local decisions: “Local elected officials should make local decisions!” he said. There are continuing efforts to limit or take local decision-making away and “I don’t think that’s right.” He said the state leaders are attempting to paint local governments with a broad brush. But “every city, county and school district aren’t the same,” he said. “Local officials are closer to their citizens. We know them better. I don’t want the state making decisions for us just like they don’t want Washington making decisions for them.”
2. Get unfunded mandates funded: The Texas Fair Defense Act requires counties to adopt formal procedures for providing appointed lawyers to indigent defendants and established a state-wide program which requires counties to pay those defense costs. Twenty seven of 50 states pay 100 percent of these defense costs. Texas only pays a small portion. Whitley says it has cost Texas property taxpayers $2.7 billion since 2001.
In addition, he said property owners are not reimbursed for state inmates in county jails. The cost to Tarrant County local taxpayers is approximately $3.7 million a year. Overall, it costs Texas property taxpayers $100 million a year.
3. Re-commit to historical levels of funding for public education: Judge Whitley was a former School Board member and has a lengthy list of teachers in his family. He is adamant about more state funding for public education. Public education is primarily funded by local property taxes and state funds. The formula is extremely complicated, but basically as property values grow local taxpayers pay more and the state pays less. The formula needs an overhaul. We often hear that adding more dollars isn’t the answer, that we just need to do a better job with what we have. Before you jump on that wagon, know that Texas ranks 42nd among states in funding and it ranks 31st in performance. So I think our teachers are doing a good job with what they get.
Texas ranks 29th in state and local tax revenue per capita, which in Texas includes, state, property and sales taxes. “In Texas, unlike most states, we thankfully have no state income tax,” he said. “Over two decades ago, the legislature required a vote of the people to ever enact a state income tax. I rest easily knowing that will never happen!”
2019 Tarrant County budget
“We (Tarrant County’s 69 elected county officials) are fiscally conservative, and very conscious of your dollars we have to spend.” Tarrant County commissioners will consider approving the county budget on Sept. 11th which will reduce the county tax rate by one cent, the third consecutive reduction in the rate. Judge Whitley said if this rate is approved, it will be the lowest proposed county tax rate of the five major urban counties in Texas.