Ken Kalthoff, NBCDFW.com
Dallas County faces a big budget shortfall, a shrinking tax base and expanding service needs for a growing population.
The Inland Port is a key to reversing slower Dallas County population growth, county commissioners said Tuesday.
The 2010 census showed Dallas County grew by only 6.7 percent, far less than neighboring counties.
The Hispanic population grew by 242,815 people, while the white population declined by 198,624 people.
County officials say affluent residents are leaving for newer homes and better schools and services.
At the same time, Dallas County faces declining property values and a large budget shortfall this year.
With the new reality of slower growth and changing population demographics, Dallas County commissioners considered several economic development options Tuesday to keep and grow their tax base.
"It's a tough situation," County Judge Clay Jenkins said. "We can't sit static, though. If we sit static, you'll see those trends continue."
"We know our economy is not going to recuperate for several years, so we need to make the most in a short period of time," Commissioner Elba Garcia said.
The Inland Port and Dallas Logistics Center includes portions of Hutchins, Wilmer, Lancaster, Dallas and unincorporated Dallas County.
A Union Pacific rail cargo transfer terminal is already there now, and Burlington Northern has plans to build one there.
Water and sewer service to the area is needed to make it more attractive to new business.
Commissioners said the county should chip in to make it happen immediately to encourage construction for increased rail traffic out of the Port of Houston expected in 2014 from expansion of the Panama Canal.
"What I'm hearing from this court is that Southeast finally gets a chance to be priority in terms of developing the tax base," Commissioner John Wiley Price said.
Brainstorming, Commissioner Mike Cantrell suggested future consolidation with some of the small cities that have not been able to fund the improvements needed to support the Inland Port on their own.
"There's been cities and counties, not unlike Miami-Dade, that have joined together," Cantrell said.
None of the others wanted to pursue that idea, but did encourage county staff to continue investigating others.
Those on the list include a hike and bike trail system expanded throughout the county over the next 10 years, helping local cities improve parks, and targeting road improvement spending to attract the greatest economic benefit.
"We need to work with different municipalities, diverse populations, diverse interests," Garcia said.