City's deal with HFD on raises sparks passionate debate about the billion-dollar price tag

Nick Natario Image
Thursday, March 21, 2024
HFD deal sparks passionate debate about the billion-dollar price tag
Mayor John Whitmire was in a heated debate with council members after promising the Houston Fire Department back pay and raises, which comes with a billion-dollar price tag.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A deal to give firefighters backpay and raises sparked a spirited debate from the people who will have to give it the green light.

For more than an hour on Wednesday, city council members went back and forth with Mayor John Whitmire.

"You may be their best friend, but we may not have the money for them," Houston City Council Member Tiffany Thomas said.

The passionate debate was over a deal with Houston firefighters. Firefighters have been at odds with the city over pay for nearly a decade.

It's a fight that's been at the voting booth, council chamber, and courtroom. Whitmire campaigned to bring it to an end.

Last week, he announced he reached a deal regarding firefighters backpay and new raises that was discussed for the first time at council on Wednesday.

"Is the total cost going to be a billion dollars? A billion plus?" Houston City Council Member Edward Pollard asked.

"It will probably be pushing that," Houston City Attorney Arturo Michel answered.

Whitmire said it could've cost even more. He noted that backpay, not including raises, could've been more than a billion dollars if it played out in court.

The deal he struck gives firefighters $650 million in backpay and 34% raises over the next five years.

It's not a done deal. The council, attorney general, and judge must sign off.

Whitmire was asked if fees, including a new one for trash, could cover the cost if approved.

"We're going to look at everything," Whitmire said.

Houstonians could be hit with new fees and not have a say. City leaders want to use a bond to cover the backpay. The $650 million bond would only require council approval and not voters.

Eyewitness News asked Whitmire why he wouldn't put it on the ballot.

"It gets us where we need quicker and certain," Whitmire explained. "I'm not going to play games with people's lives. I'm not going to play politics with people's lives."

City leaders hope to have the deal finalized by July.

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