The Tarrant County Hospital District will lower its tax rate for the first time in several years, after county commissioners unanimously overrode the hospital board’s plan to keep the tax rate flat.
Commissioners directed the district to prepare a budget with a tax rate not to exceed $0.1945 per $100 of assessed value. The “not to exceed” tax rate approved by commissioners is now the maximum tax rate the hospital district, known as JPS Health Network, can adopt in 2024.
Commissioners will hear a budget presentation based on the new tax rate direction and take another vote before final approval, Commissioner Roy Brooks told the Fort Worth Report.
How much would you save under the new tax rate?
- A resident with a $300,000 home without any exemptions currently pays $673.29 in taxes to the hospital district.
- Under the new tax rate, a resident with a $300,000 home without exemptions would pay about $582 to the hospital district.
Commissioners unanimously rejected an earlier plan by the district’s board of managers to keep the tax rate at $0.224 per $100 of assessed value to fund a $1.54 billion operating budget. The board voted 7-3 Aug. 10 to approve that plan, but acknowledged it was likely to face opposition from members of the commissioners court, who have the final say on the hospital district’s tax rate. The county proposed a 3 cent reduction to its own current tax rate Aug. 10.
Both the proposed hospital district rate and the county rate are below calculated no new revenue rates, or the rate at which a government entity produces the same revenue from taxes as the year before.
“I don’t know whether the board did not understand that it was the county’s policy that we were going to go below the no new revenue rate, or if for some reason they just disagreed with the county’s policy,” Brooks said.
Dozens of residents from Keller, Arlington, Southlake, Saginaw and Fort Worth spoke heatedly at the Aug. 15 commissioners meeting about the need for tax relief, and their frustration at the hospital district’s attempts to keep the tax rate as is. Over the past several years, the hospital district has brought in more revenue than it’s spending, raising concerns that taxpayer dollars are being taken needlessly.
“You can be pro JPS, and pro indigent care and pro Level One trauma center, and also be fiscally responsible and say, ‘We’re going to take the rate down,’” County Judge Tim O’Hare said.
Steven Cook was one of the residents advocating for commissioners to lower the hospital district’s tax rate. He retired in 2022 and now lives on a fixed income. Rising property taxes and inflation, he said, have hurt his ability to rely on that income to keep him stable.
“I know what my income is. I’m more concerned about my outcome,” he said. “And the last couple of years have been really tough.”
A few argued that keeping the tax rate as is was necessary to fund the $800 million bond package voters approved in 2018. That bond funding supports the hospital district’s master facilities plan, which includes a new psychiatric emergency center. Costs associated with the bond package have ballooned since its passage in 2018, caused in part by inflation and construction delays.
Shelley Kellam, a retired nurse who previously worked at JPS, spoke in support of keeping the hospital district’s tax rate as is. There’s a misconception that the hospital district is just hoarding funds, she said. In her view, the district is being smart by holding on to funds to ensure the bond package approved by voters can be finished.
“JPS has responsibly seen that it hasn’t been completed yet, these important projects, and that they needed to set aside additional money to account for inflation, which is real,” she said.
One hospital board member, Blake Woodard, attended the Aug. 15 commissioners meeting to give his support to a lower tax rate. He acknowledged his colleagues’ votes and joked that he was glad the sheriff escorted him into the building after hearing testimony from angry residents.
O’Hare said he’d spoken with the hospital district’s staff, including president and CEO, Dr. Karen Duncan, about the impact a reduced tax rate would have on the bond. Duncan, who attended the meeting, confirmed O’Hare’s assertion that lowering the tax rate would not hinder completion of the bond projects.
“We are aware of the Commissioners’ Court decision regarding the new tax rate set for the Tarrant County Hospital District,” a JPS spokesperson said in an email to the Report. “We will continue to keep our focus on delivering high-quality healthcare service to the residents of Tarrant County.”
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