Houston voters gave firefighters what they wanted in November, approving a referendum to provide pay raises to some of the city’s most respected employees.
Mayor Sylvester Turner is turning that directive into action, but says giving firefighters more money will cost many of them their jobs.
Turner said in a Monday night statement that the city “anticipates having to lay off 400 to 500 firefighters and municipal employees” in order to implement Proposition B, which voters approved to grant firefighters equal pay to police officers of similar rank and experience. Turner said the measure amounts to a 29 percent pay raise for firefighters and will add $80 million to an expected budget gap for the fiscal year starting July 1.
“Nobody wants to see public employee layoffs, but just like hard-working Houston families, the city must live within its means and reduce expenses to pay its bills when income is limited,” Turner said. “There’s no magic wand we can use to make financial challenges disappear.”
Turner said the city plans to issue “lump sum checks” to firefighters in May, which will account for their increase in pay between Jan. 1 through the first part of May. The total amount of those checks will be about $31 million, with the money coming from the city’s fund balance.
City employees subject to layoffs would be notified in April.
Turner has proposed implementing Prop B over a period of five years as a way to avoid widespread cuts to city services and personnel. The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, the union for local firefighters, has refused that request.
Houston firefighters protested the anticipated layoffs and potential closing of fire stations Tuesday afternoon with a march on City Hall.
“Vindictive Mayor Sylvester Turner is moving forward with his slash-and-burn plan to destroy the Houston Fire Department,” the firefighters union said on its Facebook page Monday night. “National safety standards and Houston public safety will be put at risk as the mayor punishes firefighter families and Prop B voters.”