Tarrant County officials led by County Judge Glen Whitley are colluding with JPS insiders to ram through a problematic billion-dollar debt deal. The two most recent revelations are the County Court waited to seek constituent input until all the details of the bond were finalized, and that JPS officials are abandoning key assumptions used to support their own financial forecasts underlying the proposal.
On one hand, both county and JPS officials are promising that “no new property tax increase” for the hospital district will result from issuing the bond. On the other hand, that promise is based on forecasts with “operations improvement” assumptions JPS admits won’t be satisfied.
As we previously reported, a crucial assumption underlying FRG’s “best-case” scenario relied upon JPS reducing over 350 employees to cut operating expenses, a measure officials openly admitted during public meetings and town halls they aren’t doing.
Instead, they plan to save money by foregoing the hiring of new staff, not by reducing it, to help curb budget growth. This assumption was not included in any of FRG’s financial forecast scenarios, meaning, no hard data exists to show how it will impact JPS financially if the hospital expands. Even more troubling, county officials don’t appear to care.
FRG forecasts that included the new debt and expanded facilities assumed a net reduction in total JPS staff from 5,253 in 2015, to 4,887 by 2024 to achieve the 3% “operations improvement” target. The result, in part, was a projected net reduction in annual operating expenses of $39.4 million by 2024 (from $922mil down to $883mil), despite the significant expansion.
But FRG also forecasts that if JPS falls slightly under the 3% target, they’ll be worse off than they are today. If they only achieve 1-2% they could lose millions per year. And those figures assume efficiency savings already built into FRG’s baseline projections, without any explanation how they will be achieved. Neither JPS, the court, nor FRG has explained where the “improvements” will come from, if not staff reductions.
The admission that JPS won’t reduce staffing levels brings into question the legitimacy of all financial projections underlying the bond, which the “no tax increase” pledge is based upon.
Public input hasn’t been a priority for county officials, even though intense scrutiny at town hall meetings is exposing holes in the plan. All public town halls meetings were conducted at the end of the proposal’s five-year planning process and only after county officials gave JPS their preliminary nod of approval at a May 26th work session. The meetings are designed to sell the plan, not seek public input.
The public has been completely left in the dark as to what JPS’s specific plans are to meet their financial needs in face of massive facility expansion and higher debt payments. And now, JPS is openly admitting they don’t plan on making the necessary staff reductions on which FRG based their financial forecasts. Perhaps they assumed no one would bother to double-check their own numbers.
The Tarrant County Commissioners court’s promise that “property taxes won’t go up” is an empty one. After all, the revenue to support the expanded hospital will need to come from somewhere, if not from higher taxes. Whitley and others are asking residents to simply “trust the experts.”
But taxpayers need more than faulty forecasts, empty promises, and blind hope before approving the debt plan as proposed. Any plan of this magnitude needs to be vetted by and explained to county residents before, not after, the court decides to place it on a ballot. That decision is likely to be made on the first or second Tuesday of August.