Pictured (L to R): Chamber Chairman Lonnie Nicholson; Kellie Fischer, Texas Rangers Baseball Club; Judge Glen Whitley.

Commissioners Court Judge Glen Whitley talks taxes, healthcare and development

Tarrant County Judge B. Glen Whitley provided plenty of social and business updates during the 9th annual Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce State of Tarrant County luncheon … and some fireworks about unfunded mandates from the state and a re-allocation of assessed taxes to reduce the “burden of property taxes.”

The County Judge is head of the Commissioners Court. Whitley, a certified public accountant, is a regional and state leader on matters regarding efficiently run government, transportation, sustainable communities, air quality and youth and children’s issues.

As he does at every speaking opportunity, Whitley began his talk at the Worthington Renaissance Fort Worth Hotel discussing two issues dear to his heart: Domestic Violence and Veterans. He had some news to share. The 2019 county budget would have dollars for an adult sexual assault unit and a human trafficking attorney.

See the Judge’s PPT presentation here.

He also said Arlington and Denver are the finalists to land the National Medal of Honor Museum. (Arlington has since announced that they landed it!)

Twelve acres, in partnership with the Texas General Land Office and Texas Veterans Land Board, have been set aside near Campus Drive for an affordable, skilled nursing home for veterans in close proximity to Resource Connection and the Tarrant County Veterans Service Office.

Whitley said Commissioners are “in the middle of our budgeting. It’s like brothers and sisters; we fight a bit.” The budget is based on collections, including taxes, and Whitley would like to look at raising gas, sales and hotel taxes (visitors help pay) to lower property taxes.

According to 2016 numbers from the Tax Foundation, Texas is 29th among states in tax collections per person and 37th in general revenue as a percentage of income.

“Property taxes,” he said “are more than 50 percent of that and it’s too much of a burden.”

Judge Whitley said gas taxes – 20 cents a gallon — haven’t been raised since 1993. With better-mileage gas vehicles and electric vehicles, revenues are down and “we need to do something. Again, visitors are driving our roads, too.”

He discussed a 50-year problem, “one for the grandkids.” The Legislature has outlawed any new toll roads. Tarrant County contracts are for 50 years and “we get the roads back, older and more problematic for our grandkids.” He would like the Legislature to reverse its stance. He also would like a cap in how much non-residential property tax appraisals could be raised in a single year. There is no cap for commercial property, apartments, rental and secondary homes.

Whitley said four major road construction projects are progressing nicely — the 360 Toll extension; the re-construction and widening of the of the I-20, I-820 and U.S. 287 interchanges; the I-30 and SH 360 interchange and fixing the bottleneck on I-35W at US 81/287 to Eagle Parkway.

Whitley continued his mission to get the state’s help with unfunded mandates, which for Tarrant include $16 million for indigent defense and $14 million for housing and food/care of state prisoners, approximately 1.5 cents of the county tax rate. Texas, he said, ranks 37th in state funding for indigent care.

He is proud that Tarrant has the lowest tax rate of the six largest urban counties in Texas and lowest combined with a county hospital included. Whitley says the average county tax bill will be up $3.57 per month per household.

In the area of healthcare, Whitley talked about a partnership with Baylor Scott & White in oncology, 26 new treatment rooms in the ER department at John Peter Smith, the county hospital, and accreditation as a Geriatric Emergency Department.

He said Election Day, Nov. 5, has big changes in store for Tarrant County voters. First, registered voters can vote anywhere in the county, a choice from more than 300 locations. Your vote will be made on an electronic unit and your choices will be printed out for you to check. If it is ok, you will scan your paper ballot into another machine and your vote officially will be recorded. Whitley suggested being prepared to spend extra time voting because of the new system and there no longer is straight party voting.

Whitley offered plaudits to the Legislature. “It did a great job on public education funding” with a $6.5 billion boost.

He applauded new Tarrant County developments — Dickies Arena and Texas Live!; the arrival of Amazon Prime Air and the Charles Schwab campus within Hillwood/Alliance; and the large companies that continue to invest in Tarrant County: Lockheed Martin, BNSF, American Airlines and GM.

***

Texas Rangers recognized with annual Vandergriff Award

Before Whitley’s talk, the Chamber recognized the Texas Rangers Baseball Club as the honoree for its annual Tom Vandergriff Award. The award was established in 2011 in memory of the former Tarrant County Judge and Arlington Mayor. It honors a legacy individual or organization whose contributions positively impact Tarrant County on a national scale.

Vandergriff was instrumental in bringing the Rangers to Arlington in 1972. The Rangers annual economic impact is estimated at $137 million.

“I’m here today because it’s a day game and I’m the highest ranking, least important executive,” said Rangers CFO Kellie Fischer.  “My colleagues and the Rangers ownership group, we are truly honored to receive this award. We are thrilled to have called Tarrant County our home for the last 47 years and even more thrilled to say Tarrant County will be our home for decades to come.

“It’s bittersweet to say goodbye (to Globe Life Ballpark), but we can’t wait to show you when we open the doors March 2020 (to Globe Life Field).”