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Government State of the County: Whitley pushes for local control

State of the County: Whitley pushes for local control

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley took his appeal for more local control in government to the business community on Wednesday, Sept. 5, during his eighth annual State of the County Luncheon.

Speaking to the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce at the Worthington Renaissance Hotel in downtown Fort Worth, Whitley urged business leaders to “call [elected leaders] and tell them you like local decisions being made by local elected officials and ask them not to support those things that would change that.”

Whitley said that for the last 10 years there has been an effort to take local decision making out of the hands of local elected officials.

“I don’t think that’s right. In effect, what the legislature has tried to do is to take a broad brush and paint every city, every county, and every independent school district with that same broad brush. We’re just not the same,” he said.

“I really don’t want them making decisions [for us] just like they don’t want Washington, D.C., making decisions for them,” he said.

Whitley also lashed out against unfunded mandates from the state.

Since early this year, Whitley has been drawing outrage from some fellow Republicans for placing the blame for rising local school taxes on the Texas Legislature.

Many fellow Republicans have not taken kindly to his critique.

In January, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a plan to “rein in skyrocketing property taxes” in Texas.

Whitley noted that the “sky is not falling,” in terms of Texas taxes.

“I think one of the things you have to first understand is where, as a state, do we fall when it comes to the tax rate,” he said. “If you look at sales tax or you look at just the tax revenue per capita that gets raised at the state and at the local level, we’re 29th. Twenty-ninth,” he said.

The head of the Tarrant County Commissioner’s Court also noted that the county remains financially healthy with the lowest tax rate of the five largest counties in the state and that the pension funding ratio is currently 87.7 percent funded.

Commissioners will approve next year’s tax rate at their next meeting.

Whitley also talked about the upcoming $800 million hospital bond proposal that will be on the November ballot. If this bond gets approved, the money will go towards the JPS Health Network – adding mental health beds, surgery centers, cancer centers, a new main hospital tower and four community health clinics.

“There were five major recommendations,” he said. “Mental health was one of the key ones. Also, a new main patient tower, a surgical center, [and] do something along the lines of a cancer center.

“Then also, a place within the county for additional what we would call medical homes. Commissioner Fickes is getting ready to open one … down on Highway 10. I believe that’s going to open up in the next month. We need to position those around the entire county to give everybody or to give many people an opportunity to be able to have [medical care] a little bit closer to home,” Whitley said.

Whitley, who earned his accounting degree from the University of Texas at Arlington and co-founded the Whitley Penn accounting firm in 1983, was elected a Tarrant County Commissioner in 1996 and Tarrant County Judge in 2006. Whitley faces Democrat Lawrence Meyers in the general election in November.

The chamber’s State of the County program was presented by Ciera Bank. Platinum sponsors were BaylorScott&White, Bell, BNSF Railway, the Kay Granger Campaign Fund, Kelly Hart and Southwest Bank.

Also during the program, the Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base (NAS Fort Worth JRB), received the Fort Worth Chamber’s Vandergriff Award.

The annual award, established in 2011 in memory of Tarrant County Judge Tom Vandergriff, honors a legacy individual or organization whose contributions positively impact Tarrant County on a national scale.

“The very foundation of Fort Worth was a military objective – the fort where the west began – and our residents are proud of that history,” said Bill Thornton, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Chamber. “The NAS Fort Worth JRB continues that heritage not only by serving our national security, but also by employing more than 10,000 exceptional service members and serving as a top-tier economic driver for our region.”

The chamber’s close association with the base dates to 1941, when the chamber landed the bomber assembly plant and the Army Air Corps wanted an adjacent airfield. The chamber worked with elected officials and others to protect and strengthen the base as it went through various stages, including Carswell Air Force Base and now, the NAS Fort Worth JRB. During its lifetime, under various names, the base has been owned and operated by the Navy, Army and Air Force.

Today, it is part of Navy Installations Command (CNIC), under the oversight of Capt. Jonathan R. Townsend, commander, Navy Region Southeast. He is the 12th commanding officer since the installation was established as the nation’s first joint reserve base.

“I was surprised and honored when I heard the Chamber of Commerce selected Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base to receive this year’s Vandergriff Award,” Townsend said. “We at NAS Fort Worth value the support we receive from the surrounding community as it has proved to continuously assist us in our mission accomplishment of a ready military force.

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