HOUSTON (FOX 26) — With the implementation of Proposition B, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner's office is estimating that between 400 and 500 firefighters and municipal employees will be laid off with 60-day notices to be issued in April.
The City of Houston will move forward with the voter-approved referendum granting firefighters “pay parity” with police. Initial adjusted paychecks will take effect as of May.
Mayor Turner met with department directors in small groups with a total of thirteen of 16 Houston City Council members and explained timelines and changes to the payroll system.
Firefighters will be issued lump sum checks for Jan.1 through the first part of May, which will totaling around $31 million. The money will come directly from the city’s fund balance, which is used to balance the city’s budget, maintain the city’s credit rating or for exigent circumstances such as natural disasters.
The City of Houston is required to adopt a balanced budget for the next fiscal year by the end of June.
If a budget gap remains with no new funding sources, the city will lay off employees.
"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,” said Mayor Turner in a statement issued on Monday. “There’s no magic wand we can use to make financial challenges disappear.”
"Our preliminary analysis suggests that the Fire Department can take a number of steps to reduce personnel without having a negative impact on public safety," according to independent consulting firm PFM Group, which was hired by the city to review the finances and departments. The PFM Group report recommended reducing the firefighter force by as many as 845 positions through attrition and said that fighting fires, unlike providing emergency medical assistance and other functions, was less than 30 percent of the Houston Fire Department workload.
PFM reported that Houston had 18.9 firefighters per 10,000 city residents, the highest rate for large cities other than New York City.
Mayoral candidate Bill King had some comments to make in the wake of the announcement. He released the following statement following Mayor Turner's decision to lay off up to 500 city employees.
"Sylvester Turner’s failure as mayor has come full circle as he announced that he would lay off up to 500 fire fighters and city workers even though he is fully to blame for the consequences of Prop B. He’s had multiple chances to pay the fire fighters fairly after he cut their already earned pension benefits, and his actions today will undoubtably hurt public safety.
"What’s even more outrageous is that he approved $400 million in contracts without council approval, which is five times the amount needed to pay for Prop B. Before any city worker loses their job, Sylvester Turner should disclose how every dollar of that $400 million in taxpayer money was spent. Until Turner opens the books on those contracts, we won’t know if that money could have been used to pay for Prop B."