HOUSTON (FOX 26) — Is Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner trying to bypass voter-approved Proposition B? Based on his budget proposal obtained by FOX 26 News, police would get paid more through incentives, but the mayor disputes that.
The president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Union says the mayor is trying to do an end run around pay parity by offering police more in incentive pay.
The Houston city controller, who serves as the budget "watchdog," is also asking some tough questions.
The attempt to douse the city's financial fire is simply fanning the flames with the firefighter's union. HPFFA president Marty Lancton says the mayor’s budget proposal comes as no surprise.
"It was exactly what the firefighters have been warning citizens and the voters about," says Lancton. "Apparently, this mayor has no intention of implementing Proposition B and respecting the will of 300,000 voters."
According to internal city documents acquired by FOX 26, the city's incentive pay budget for the firefighters would be roughly $11 million, but the incentive pay budget for police would be roughly $70 million.
"It's a slap in the face," adds Lancton. And he says it is also illegal.
City Controller Chris Brown has some questions about this. In a letter from his office dated on Thursday, he asked the mayor some pointed questions.
"Prop B implementation does not include incentive pay for investigative incentive pay, field training incentive pay, mentoring pay, tuition reimbursement and clothing allowance," says Brown in the letter. "Please explain why these incentives are not being included for pay parity? Would not paying these incentives violate the parity ordinance?"
Mayor Turner is pushing back. He says Proposition B passed with no way to fund it and he has to balance the budget. He also says the police have added educational requirements for promotion that firefighters do not have.
"The city's attorney says yes and he's the city's attorney," explains Mayor Turner. "We will certainly sit down with the controller and explain to him every step that has been taken. But the city's legal attorney has given a thumbs up on the approach that we are taking."
Turner also says this budget crisis could go away if the firefighters' union would agree to phase in pay parity over four years, an offer the union has not accepted. This latest dispute comes the day after 66 fire cadets were given pink slips from the city.
"I just hope that we can negotiate in these final weeks to where we don't have to make any more layoffs to balance the budget," says Houston Council Member Jack Christie. "You've got to make some cuts unless you have compromise."
Brown has to certify the city budget, which is due at the end of June.