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How would you implement Prop B?

Here, from last week, is Mayor Turner’s official announcement about layoffs, following a failure to come to an agreement with the firefighters’ union about a time frame to fully implement Prop B. Here’s the Chron story about the firefighters protesting the layoffs, which we knew were coming – indeed, we’d known since last year, as that was one of the main points Mayor Turner made during the Prop B campaign. The Chron editorial board agrees with Turner that given the limited options available, layoffs are the only reasonable choice.

Now, to be sure, there is the garbage fee proposal, which Council will vote on this week. It would, at least in theory, pay for the increased costs that Prop B imposes, though there are objections. I’ve laid some of them out – a trash fee should be used for solid waste collection, the potential for litigation is non-trivial – and I’ll add another one here: If a garbage fee is the mechanism for funding Prop B, that necessarily means that only some Houstonians are contributing to that. Anyone who doesn’t live in a house that has city of Houston solid waste service would not be subject to this fee. (At least, I assume so – it’s not clear to me how this fee will be assessed.) Maybe you think that’s a big deal and maybe you don’t, but I guarantee someone will complain about it.

So the question remains, how would you implement Prop B? We all agree Prop B will cost some money to implement. The firefighters have never put a dollar figure on it themselves – they have made claims that the fire department brings in revenues that could be spent on the fire department instead of other things, which doesn’t actually solve anything but just recapitulates the argument that the city should spend more on firefighters. Raising the property tax rate is out, as it would violate the stupid revenue cap. Indeed, as we know, the city has had to cut the tax rate multiple times in recent years, costing itself a lot of revenue in the process. The basic options are a flawed fee that will charge some households up to $300 a year and others nothing, and layoffs. And if you’re going to do layoffs, the ones that make the most sense are the firefighters themselves, as the vast majority of calls to HFD are for emergency medical services and not fires – EMTs are cheaper to hire, don’t require expensive fire trucks to get to where they’re going, and aren’t in scope of Prop B. And that, barring any late-breaking agreement to implement Prop B more slowly, is what we are going to get.

So then, what if anything would you do differently? I’m open to suggestion.

UPDATE: Here’s City Controller Chris Brown saying the cost of Prop B is unsustainable outside an agreement to phase it in over five years, which is what the city has been pushing for.

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5 Comments

  1. Manny says:

    The firefighter knew that layoff could be part of the picture, but that is the route they chose.

    I, think like Kuffner, that letting building burn down if the firefighters don’t get there in time is no big deal. The questions I have if there are people in the building(s) do the firefighters wait to go in until they are the proper number there? Do Emts quit going into burning buildings? Afterall, some of the firefighters that died in the following fires were with EMT units:

    https://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Houston-Fire-Department-honors-firefighters-12956976.php

  2. Joe says:

    All firefighters are EMT’s. All EMT’s with the city of Houston are firefighters. They rotate on and off the apparatus ( from one to the other).

  3. Jason says:

    I would offer that you just implement it. The firefighters were obviously aware that the mayor would make every effort to punish them for what he interprets as subverting his authority. Lay off what ever number satisfies his grudge and pay the remaining members what the voters gave them. When the layoffs, resulting station closures, extended response times, and possibly worse occurs, you can expect the mayor to continue to blame anyone or anything except his ability to manage this city. One thing you can count on is that the firefighters will own and manage whatever hardship results from the mayor’s grudge. They will forever continue to tirelessly serve the only people they have sworn to serve. The citizens of Houston. This mayor is merely one of several past ones who refuse to acknowledge and reward their selfless efforts. In the end, he will fade away and they will remain without a single thought of him or his unbiased behavior.

  4. […] How would you implement Prop B? […]

  5. craig says:

    Has the city considered offering the older firefighters a severance package maybe 25,000-30,000 to leave after prop.b is implemented and /or discounted insurance for several years. This may keep the younger firefighters who are payed less and are the majority of your paramedics. How may of your paramedics would the city lose if 300-400 firefighters are laid -off ? The cost may be cheaper in the long run, that would be a question for the city’s bean counters.