After a long debate, the Houston City Council Nov. 28 voted to approve spending up to $500,000 on legal fees to determine the validity of Proposition B, which would give Houston firefighters about 25-29 percent raise and cost the city an estimated $100 million a year.
Nearly 60 percent of Houston voters cast votes in favor of Proposition B on Nov. 6, which would give firefighters pay parity with Houston police officers of similar rank and seniority. For weeks, city officials have been saying firing hundreds of city employees, including firefighters and police officers, would be the only way to afford such a pay hike.
The ballot language for Proposition B was adapted straight from a petition signed by 60,000 residents, which resulted in the proposition being added to the ballot, said Dave Martin, Houston City Council District E member, who represents the Clear Lake area.
However, Martin said the ballot language was vague and left unanswered questions about when the pay raises should go into effect and if they should happen all at once or be phased in. The confusion about the proposition and whether it or the collective bargaining process takes legal precedence caused the council to consider hiring a legal team to take the matter to court for a third party’s determination, he said.
Council members debated at length about whether hiring a legal team at a maximum $1.09 million was the right move, prompting Martin to make a motion to lower the cap to $500,000. Still, several members voted against the motion, stating the will of the voters should be followed and another roadblock shouldn’t be used. The final vote was 9-7.
Mayor Sylvester Turner, who approved of seeking legal options, said he’s not trying to supersede the voters’ will, but clarify if Proposition B is even legally valid before he has to consider laying off firefighters and police officers to balance the budget.
Turner and Martin both spent the weeks leading up to Election Day encouraging voters to reject Proposition B. Both said firefighters deserve a raise, but that $100 million a year is far too costly.