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Council discusses firefighter pay parity proposal

It will cost some money if it passes.

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña said Thursday that his firefighters deserve raises, but he would be hard-pressed to maintain his department budget without reducing his ranks if voters approve a measure granting firefighters “pay parity” with police.

“This is not a scare tactic,” Peña told a city council committee. “They’re simple numbers. In order to deliver the expected service this community wants we’re going to have to do restructuring. Even at that, I won’t be able to meet the entire gap.”

Peña’s comments were in response to questions during a city council committee meeting Thursday in regard to a proposed “pay parity” measure the Houston firefighters union wants to appear on the November ballot.

Others, including city officials, business leaders and police union members, told the committee that passage of the parity measure would force the city to cut services and lay off workers and could risk a credit downgrade for City Hall.

[…]

The firefighters union wants the referendum on the November ballot, but Turner said he will let the council choose the election date at its Aug. 8 meeting. The deadline for getting something on the November ballot is Aug. 20.

Turner this week said the committee hearing was intended to be informational.

“When you’re talking to your constituents and they ask you approximately how much this will cost, I’d like to think you’ll want to have an answer,” he told the council Wednesday.

See here for some background, and here for an earlier story about the Council meeting, which was not the very special meeting that failed to reach a quorum. The firefighters are correct that Council has a duty to out the measure on the ballot, and to do it any later than this November would justifiably be seen as another stall for time. Their complaints about Council discussing the price tag rings hollow to me, given 1) the lack of clarity of how a pay parity proposal would be implemented; 2) the experience of other cities that have done this; 3) the potential impact on pension costs; and 4) the city’s overall financial picture. You know how I feel about this, and let me note again the certainty that someone will file suit over the ballot language no matter how the vote goes. I agree with Campos that the fight over this issue will be contentious, with the police department and the Greater Houston Partnership siding with the city against the firefighters. It’s not great to contemplate, but it’s pretty much baked in at this point. We’ll see what Council does on August 8.

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3 Comments

  1. Steve Houston says:

    “Their complaints about Council discussing the price tag rings hollow to me, given 1) the lack of clarity of how a pay parity proposal would be implemented; 2) the experience of other cities that have done this; 3) the potential impact on pension costs; and 4) the city’s overall financial picture. You know how I feel about this…”

    I fully agree with your take Kuff. The video of the meeting is now available online so all those bloggers who have been embellishing what was said and by whom can be held accountable by independent-minded readers. Of interest to me was Fire Chief Pena’s comments about restructuring the entire department to better suit the kinds of calls for help the department receives, a move resisted for years by the rank and file of his troops but mentioned here frequently in recent years.

    In the effort to save some time from the regulars:
    Manny: “But what about the Russian puppet, Trump, and the all-powerful Gay cabal of the local democratic party trying to cheat Latino candidates?”
    Bill: “They get paid too much. In my day, they paid us in salt…and we liked it!”
    Joe: “The answer is perfectly clear, public banking. Public banking would solve all ills because I read about it once and linked to it on my website.”

  2. C.L. says:

    @Steve… LOL. Classic. Hit the nail square on the head.

  3. With the exception of the medical center. Houstonians aren’t exactly the brightest.

    Unfortunately, city voters are too lazy to learn basic arithmetic and too self to pay an extra $12.27 a month. Repealing the revenue cap is priority.

    After that, TIRZ reform.

    If Amanda Edwards can’t figure out the billions in sales-property tax loopholes created by the legislature that affect the city budget. She could just copy the ideas off my website.

    But a feasibility study on a municipal public bank is needed. If i have to explain to Chris Brown and Akex Obregon how to do it. Like i had to explain to Angeka Blanchard and Jonita Reynolds how to offer paid family leave. Then we have bigger problems.

    Or maybe it just might be easier if the UH mba and mpa programs improve their curriculum, find smarter professors, etc

    But at least i’m not wasting my time at St Joseph’s medical center where doctors ask me how to read an ekg because they can’t count squares and waves. LOL