State of the County: Whitley talks taxes, projects, new voting process

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley Sept. 26, 2019 State of the County

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley updated the business community on various projects and county matters on hand at the annual State of the County address Thursday, Sept. 26 at Worthington Renaissance Fort Worth Hotel.

Displaying shreds of dissent towards state government, Whitley overall provided an optimistic view of current affairs.

Admitting property taxes are already overburdened, Whitley wants Texas Legislature to leverage more from other taxes such as hotel occupancy tax, gas tax, sales tax, severance tax and franchise tax.

“Other people’s money,” as Whitley referred to it.

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“With us having the burden on property tax, we’re not giving those people who have the opportunity to come and visit this great state a chance to pay their fair share,” Whitley said.

Tarrant County has the lowest county tax rate (0.23%) amongst the six largest urban counties in Texas. The county’s pension fund is currently 87.8% funded.

As the property appraisal steadily increases, homeowners are experiencing a tax increase of about $3.57 per household per month.

As Whitley pointed out, that additional amount is being used to fund different projects, like the new passport office at Northeast Sub-Courthouse. The county added about 65 new job positions, 45 of those in public safety.

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Following that model, Tarrant County is also open to taking over the duty from the state to establish its own drivers’ license offices, Whitley said.

Apart from the budget, Whitley also informed attendees about the progress made on various healthcare and infrastructure projects.

Following the $800 million bond approved by voters last year, the county-supported JPS Health Network opened a cancer center and the first accredited geriatric emergency department in Texas.

JPS is now on the process of opening 26 new treatment areas in emergency departments and selecting locations for more community centers.

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And with the state elections soon to begin, Tarrant County has made a few changes to the technicalities in voting.

“With the state, this year we have ten propositions on the ballot. Now we didn’t have to have the election had those ten propositions not been on the ballot,” Whitley said. “And those elections are going to cost us about $1 million. So, with a little bit of tongue-in-cheek, I’ll say there’s another unfunded mandate that we have to do.”

The county decided on Tuesday that it will charge the vote locations a minimum of $75. Special voting locations, for e.g. TCC campus, will pay about $55,000, Whitley said.

In the next elections, Tarrant County voters will also be introduced to new voting machines, which are electronic in nature but will have paper trails for reference and record keeping. The county bought about 3,000 such voting machines.

Tarrant County voters also now have the option of casting their ballots anywhere in the county on election day, and not just in their own precincts.

The Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce put on the event.