Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to let go of 400 firefighters in order to fund a voter-mandated measure to give the fire department pay raises. (Sylvester Turner Facebook )
The administration of Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat who opposed the raises, plans to mail layoff notices within a few weeks. Those who'll be out of work include 68 cadets whom the mayor declined to promote amid a hiring freeze.
The raises required by Proposition B — which was approved by 59 percent of voters — would grant city firefighters the same pay as police officers of corresponding rank.
Around $80 million of the city’s $197 million budget gap stems from the raises. In May, Turner will seek to issue back pay to firefighters retroactive to Jan. 1, totaling around $30 million.
“So, basically, on May 9 you want to be hanging out near a firefighter because he’s going to be buying,” Councilman Greg Travis told the Houston Chronicle. “He’s going to have a lot of money on that day.”
Turner said implementing the measure is almost impossible without layoffs.
“When you factor in Proposition B, it’s $197 million that we have to find a way to balance between now and June, and unless there’s additional revenue coming in, we cannot do it without there being significant layoffs," Turner said, according to KHOU-TV.
To close the deficit, Turner will ask all city departments to cut their budgets by 3 percent, which could require more layoffs, though no police officers will be let go, Councilwoman Brenda Stardig said, according to the Chronicle.
The plan would cut $25 million out of the fire department’s $503 million budget, Fire Chief Sam Peña told council members. Despite the cuts, the number of firefighters on duty at any one time will not change, officials said.
“The mayor’s hatred of firefighters now will have terrible consequences for us and for the public," said Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Marty Lancton, according to the paper. “He’s willing to destroy public safety in Houston to punish firefighter families. A world-class fire department is being destroyed from within by third-rate politicians.”
“He’s willing to destroy public safety in Houston to punish firefighter families. A world-class fire department is being destroyed from within by third-rate politicians.”
— President Marty Lancton, Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association
During negotiations since Prop B’s passing, the fire union proposed phasing in the raises over three years retroactive to July 1, 2018, with all members reaching parity with police by July 1, 2020.
Turner campaigned against the proposition and warned of potential layoffs if passed. He said Friday that the charter amendment came without a way to fund it.
“People want to put the administration in a box,” Turner said. “If you don’t implement Prop. B, people criticize you for not implementing Proposition B. When we move to implement Prop. B, people say, ‘We don’t want the layoffs.’ Well, you can’t have it both ways.”
Under his plan, firefighters would receive smaller raises if they lack the same educational requirements required by the corresponding police position. For example, a Houston police officer must have a master’s degree to be promoted to assistant police chief. That stipulation does not exist for fire chiefs or fire marshals.
Some council members were skeptical of the proposal.
"I’m not sure that’s going to fly,” Councilman Mike Knox said.
“If within police, if there are educational requirements to get to a certain rank, then the same thing ought to be expected of fire, if you want parity,” Turner said.
The City Council still needs to approve Turner's plan and vote on what it's willing to give up to balance the budget and pay firefighters, KPRC-TV reported.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.