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Prop B layoffs rescinded

No Prop B, no need for layoffs. Funny how that works.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston City Council on Wednesday formally reversed the 220 firefighter layoffs and hundreds of demotions it approved earlier this year, making official Mayor Sylvester Turner’s pledge not to lay off or demote any firefighters in the aftermath of a judge’s ruling that Proposition B is unconstitutional.

Before a state district judge threw out Prop B, the voter-approved charter amendment granted firefighters the same pay as police of corresponding rank and seniority. Turner warned that Prop B would require layoffs to offset the cost of the raises, a point hotly disputed by the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association. City council voted in April to send firefighters 60-day layoff notices, which the panel unanimously rescinded Wednesday.

The council also voted to reverse more than 400 demotions within the Houston Fire Department. The layoff notices had gone to the lowest-ranking firefighters, initially requiring the city to fill in those positions from the top down through demotions.

“This puts everything back the way it existed prior to that vote,” Turner said.

The city also had sent layoff notices to 47 municipal employees, but Turner already had rescinded those unilaterally because those layoffs did not require council approval.

Councilman Dwight Boykins asked Turner if the layoff reversal would impact Fire Chief Sam Peña’s proposed department restructuring, which would move HFD from a four-shift to three-shift model — a move the union opposes. Turner confirmed that Wednesday’s vote has no bearing on the proposed shift change.

Councilwoman Brenda Stardig also asked Turner if the city plans to recoup back pay granted to firefighters before Prop B was ruled unconstitutional. Some department employees received raises the week before the judge’s ruling.

Turner said his administration is “addressing how to deal with that issue,” but in the meantime he sees the raises as a “credit on future negotiations.” The mayor said last month that he did not intend to “claw back” funds from any firefighter.

Obviously, this isn’t the end. We’re about to have an election that will re-litigate this whole thing – though don’t expect anyone to give a plausible answer to how they would have handled this all differently – and that court ruling has been appealed to the 14th Court of Appeals. But in a real sense, this is over. Whatever happens next, it will occur in a context of Prop B not having happened. So maybe now, at least for a little while, we can talk about something else.

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7 Comments

  1. David Fagan says:

    In the past week, HFD stopped a fire at another apartment complex appraised at $17.5 million, preventing loss, and protecting $368,000 of tax income per year. A good job by HFD and a worth while return on the $500,000,000 investment in a fire department.

  2. mollusk says:

    “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.”

    – Oscar Wilde

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    David,

    Using your standard of employee compensation, then the good folks at the city permits department should be compensated based on the dollar amount of the building projects they approve each year, and police should be compensated based on the dollar amount of traffic tickets they write that are actually collected.

    In the case of the police, that’s actually partially true, as the most prolific ticket writers end up collecting overtime sitting at the courthouse, testifying, and waiting to testify. If the FF’s want to write their own ticket, maybe they should hire on with HPD to become traffic enforcement folks.

  4. C.L. says:

    I think David’s on to something – HFD should only stop the infernos that bring the most tax dollars to the city’s coffers. What better way to get rid of CoH residential riff raff housing ? Just let those structures burn so the investors/developers can construct some more stucco covered townhomes. If the hi rise downtown property owner has negotiated with HCAD some well below market value assessed value, then if that sucker gets a smoking, then peace out Chase or Wells Fargo or Hyatt or Marriott skyscraper ! Get ready for a new inner city park that’s immune to catching fire !

    And I think Bill’s right – HFD’s budget should be tied directly to traffic tickets. My suggestion is that the local patrol/cops hide behind some low rise shrubbery at every intersection that used to have a red light camera installed and get pen and pad ready. Think of all the money that could generated from the Brazos/West Gray confluence alone ! Donuts for the entire Precinct !

  5. Steve Houston says:

    Without being overly critical, I think David’s plan would quickly backfire if someone were to add up the cost of HFD’s “protection” of property and compared it to the suggested tax “savings” even if the most generous of assumptions were to be applied. Most of what HFD currently does relates to EMS services, close to 90%, and should be considered using a different valuation model. Of that remaining 10%, eliminate the false alarms, the little brush fires and smaller service calls to find relatively limited property damage “savings”. To further complicate things, most of the taxes paid are not to the city of Houston, the Greenridge Place fire recently was to a apartment complex valued at some $23 million for a total yearly tax bill of almost $600k but the city only gets $130k of that, good luck getting other entities to subsidize HFD when they rely on mostly volunteers (like Harris County).

    Unlike insurance, it’s not like HFD is going to rebuild any of the structures damaged in a fire so any valuation would fairly only be a small fraction of the possible prevented damage, a scheme like this would require HFD to justify their current budget of over $500 million by cooking the numbers far more than any local democrats are capable of doing. In all, while it could provide plenty of fodder for chatter at the station house, it just doesn’t work as a funding model.

    Bill, like the proposed FD valuation model, your spoof PD funding suggestion falls flat too. The city budget states that for moving violations, the city receives an average of less than $30 a ticket, other tickets are less lucrative. The problem with that is that the “revenue” fails to factor in the cost of the major components of a ticket, including the value of the time of the cop writing the ticket and his court appearances, the processing of said tickets by the courts, and all the related capital costs to make it happen. Giving financial incentives for cops to write a lot of tickets would likely become a huge headache as they started burying us in mountains of tickets to make a living. This is why the revenue generated at such a loss is sent to the general fund just like HFD’s ambulance fees are sent there, to remove incentives causing policy problems.

  6. David Fagan says:

    HFD has preserved another apartment complex on Imperial Valley Drive, valued at $5,250,000 and preserving $50,000 in tax revenue. An excellent job of protecting and preserving life, property, and ultimately tax revenue.

  7. C.L. says:

    I think David’s on to something AGAIN !!! HFD should only stop the infernos that bring the most tax dollars to the city’s coffers. What better way to get rid of CoH residential riff raff housing ? Just let those structures burn so the investors/developers can construct some more stucco covered townhomes. No tax revenue? Suck it ! If the hi rise downtown property owner has negotiated with HCAD some well below market value assessed value, then if that sucker gets a smoking, then peace out Chase or Wells Fargo or Hyatt or Marriott skyscraper ! Get ready for a new inner city park that’s immune to catching fire !

    And I think Bill’s right – HFD’s budget should be tied directly to traffic tickets. My suggestion is that the local patrol/beat cops hide behind some low rise shrubbery at every intersection that used to have a red light camera installed and get pen and pad ready. Think of all the money that could generated from the Brazos/West Gray confluence alone ! Donuts for the entire Precinct !

    It’s Groundhog Day !

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