County Judge Glenn Whitley updated the Greater Arlington Chamber of Commerce on the current State of Tarrant County during a luncheon meeting on Thursday, May 6, 2021. About 160 members and guests attended the event in person with another 500 or so watching the streaming video. You can watch the full event at the bottom of this post.
Judge Whitley updated the audience on the progress of vaccinations against Covid-19, the use of the federal assistance that has arrived and will shortly arrive, the upcoming elections and his thoughts on lessening dependence on property taxes to fund local government services.
Quoting the County website last updated on Wednesday, May 5th, the Judge reported that almost 1.2 million shots had been administered in the county. He pointed out that while that number seems impressive, we need to be increasing the number of vaccinations dramatically.
Judge Whitley recounted the county’s approach to distributing the funds from the original CARES act. The CARES act designated direct funding to cities and counties with over 500,000 population, with the balance of the funding for smaller cities and counties going to the states for distribution. Tarrant County took 50% of the funds it received and distributed them to the cities other than Ft. Worth (which got its funding directly from the federal government). The county provided direct grants of up to $10,000 each to qualifying small businesses and also funded activities by Non-Government Organizations (NGO’s) like Mission Arlington and Catholic Charities.
The American Recovery Act of 2021 has additional funding for cities and counties. This time funds will be distributed directly to all cities and counties based on population. Arlington stands to get about $84 million in this round of funding. Totally the cities in Tarrant County and the county will receive a total of $881.5 million. Judge Whitley is proposing the cities and county pool their money and have one program which would greatly reduce the administrative costs. He believes each city can get the money allocated to it without hiring consultants and administrators separately.
As he often does, Judge Whitley offered some advice to the State Legislature regarding our overdependence on property taxes to fund local services provided by cities, counties and school districts. He made it clear that he did not want to raise more taxes. Texas ranks 35 among the 50 states in total tax burden. He suggested that the legislature consider widening the base for the collection of sales taxes to include, among other things, business services like legal and consulting services which are not now taxed. Those additional funds would be dedicated to reducing property taxes. He stopped short of offering a total prescription to the legislature.
He also made it clear that the Texas Legislature’s attempt to direct counties’ conduct of elections from Austin will have serious unintended consequences. What works in a small county like Rockwall with a population of 100,000 won’t necessarily work in Tarrant County. Issues like this one make it necessary for cities and counties to have lobbyists in Austin.