Cost of pay parity drops as Houston mayor offers firefighters new deal

Well before pay parity for Houston Firefighters was approved by voters, Mayor Sylvester Turner and City Controller Chris Brown estimated the annual cost of the raise at $100 million or more, a hefty figure repeated time and time again.

At least for the record, that cost changed today with a City Hall markdown of 21 percent.

"The implementation numbers that have been provided to me at this point, that number is $79 million," said Brown at a meeting of city council.

Coming in combination with projections of city revenue growth, the discounted cost of implementing voter approved pay parity prompted Councilman Dwight Boykins to call for the cancellation of hundreds of planned layoffs.

"My hope is with the number continuing to go south that we will be able to fully fund it without laying off any city workers, period," said Boykins.

But Mayor Turner said even at $79 million, the city can't afford the cost of paying firefighters and police equally, unless parity is gradually phased in.

Turner says the 21 percent reduction in the total cost of implementing Proposition B comes from strictly enforcing educational criteria in the parity process - criteria which are more stringent for police resulting in fewer firefighters qualifying for higher pay grades.

With layoffs looming, the mayor says he's willing to offer new terms.

"There won't be nearly as many layoffs if you phase it in over four (years). I can't promise there won't be any, but there will be fewer.  I am more than willing, the city is more than willing, to phase it in over four years," said Turner.

By mid-afternoon, the mayor has dispatched a letter offering the firefighters' union a three-and-a-half year phase-in of pay parity, albeit, with an undetermined number of layoffs baked into the proposed deal.

Firefighter Union President Marty Lancton issued a rapid response.

"Your ever-changing Proposition B cost estimates and your refusal to fully open the city books for the purpose of negotiation of Proposition B implementation are troubling," said Lancton.

Lancton tells FOX 26 Mayor Turner needs to stop negotiating via the media and instead accept the union's offer to meet face-to-face.