At a town hall meeting Tuesday in Clear Lake, Houston officials discussed several topics including Exploration Green and road projects but spoke most about a proposition on the Nov. 6 ballot that asks for voter approval to give Houston firefighters raises.
Every official who spoke voiced opposition for Proposition B, which would give firefighters a 29 percent raise in the first year and a 32 percent raise in the second. The firefighter union has rejected Mayor Sylvester Turner’s offer of a 9.5 percent raise and instead seeks voter approval for raises that would tie firefighters’ pay to police officers’, Turner said.
If approved the cost to the city would be at least $100 million, Turner said.
“That is unsustainable, and I will tell you the city cannot afford it,” he said.
Houston would have to fire police officers and firefighters and cut other positions and services to balance the budget, Turner said. “Quite frankly, that’s the only way you can do it.”
Turner made it clear he loves Houston’s 4,000 firefighters and appreciates and respects their service, but his job is to protect the city’s interests, and $100 million in raises would not work in the city’s favor, he said.
Even if Proposition B fails, the 9.5 percent raise Turner offered will remain on the table. Firefighters deserve a raise, but not one that would be a detriment to the city, Turner said.
Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña also spoke against the proposition. Firefighters’ pay needs to reach market value, but raises have to be done responsibly, and negotiating has to be done at the table and not in the voting booth, he said.
“I can’t afford to lose any firefighters,” Peña said.
Dave Martin, Houston City Council District E member, said firefighter union representatives have failed to show up to 10 meetings to share their perspective and back up their belief in Proposition B.
Officials also briefly discussed Proposition A, which is a “do-over” vote to approve Houston’s existing ReBuild Houston program, which locks certain revenue sources into being used only for street and drainage projects.
Approving Proposition A would not increase costs to taxpayers. The money is already there, and the question is what it should be used for, Turner said.
“It doesn’t increase anybody’s taxes. It doesn’t increase anybody’s fees,” he said.
Early voting starts Oct. 22. Election Day is Nov. 6.