State of the County: Whitley talks Rangers, health care

Glen Whitley at State of the County address

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley spoke Sept. 7 at the sixth annual State of the County event at the Worthington Renaissance Fort Worth Hotel. Here are some highlights from his Q&A with Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce Chairman Mark Nurdin.

On a new Rangers ballpark …

Whitley expressed support for a proposal to build a new ballpark for the Texas Rangers, saying the team might leave Tarrant County if the project does not move forward.

He said he hopes a new ballpark that includes a retractable roof will attract events similar to Austin’s South by Southwest to Tarrant County.

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“In my mind, we can easily double or triple what they’re doing in Austin right now with South by Southwest because it would all be predictable,” Whitley said. “We don’t have to worry about the weather because regardless of what happens, we’ve got venues where we can take these folks in.”

The Arlington City Council voted Aug. 9 to hold an election on Nov. 8 asking voters to approve using part of the city’s sales, hotel-motel and car-rental taxes to pay for half of a new ballpark.

On the future of health care …

The new medical school formed by Texas Christian University and the University of North Texas Health Science Center is a game changer for Tarrant County, playing a role in the county’s decision to put a hold on the proposed $809 million bond package for John Peter Smith Hospital, Whitley said.

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“I cannot be more excited,” he said. “The moment that was announced, I thought, ‘Okay. This is going to impact where medicine is going in the future.’ We decided at that point to not put anything on the ballot but instead to go back and look at where we are going to be in 10, 15, 20, 30 years.”

He said the county plans to form a blue ribbon committee that will discuss the future of health care and create a plan for tackling future challenges. Dr. Stuart Flynn, dean of the UNTHSC/TCU medical school, will be part of that committee, Whitley said.

On property taxes …

Property tax as a percentage of personal income is dropping in Tarrant County. “In 2004, Tarrant County collected almost $231 million. In 2014, we collected $333 million,” he said. Over that period, personal income in the county grew from $52 billion to $89 billion, and the tax as a percentage of personal income has dropped from 0.444 percent in 2004 to 0.374 percent in 2014, he said.

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“Why is it going down? Because we’re business friendly,” Whitley said, citing acquisitions like Facebook. “Yes, your appraisals were increased, but at the same time, I promise you we do everything we can to spend your tax dollars as efficiently as we can, and we’ll continue to try to bring more folks in here,” he said.

On transportation …

Whitley estimated that about $10 billion in public and private funds has been spent on transportation improvements in Tarrant County, such as the DFW Connector, the North Tarrant Express and Chisholm Trail Parkway.

The State of the County event was hosted by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. Prior to Whitley’s comments, the chamber presented the 2016 Vandergriff Award to the UNTHSC and TCU for their partnership in creating Fort Worth’s first medical school to grant the M.D. degree.