Controller ups cost estimate of 'pay parity' measure

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(File) A firefighter's hat catches on fire while fighting an apartment fire in an undated file photo.

City of Houston estimates for the cost of a charter amendment that would raise fire department staff pay to amounts similar to police staff have risen with a newly approved contract with the city's police union, the city controller's office said.

The issue, set for early voting beginning Monday, would give equal pay to police and firefighters of similar rank.

If pay parity passes, firefighters will be entitled to that raise as well, upping the cost to the city.
On Thursday, city controller Chris Brown sent a revised estimate to the city council about how much he believed the measure could cost, raising the first and second-year estimates by $15 and $30 million, respectively.

Brown's office estimates for the remainder of this fiscal year, which runs through June, the cost will be roughly $85 million. For the first full fiscal year, starting in July 2019, the amendment will cost roughly $100 million, Brown estimates. The second fiscal year would cost $115 million.

The change comes after Houston's police union agreed to a new two-year contract worth $53 million.

City finance projects the issue will cost about $98 million in the first fiscal year but did not take into account the police pay raise.

Houston's firefighters rank near the bottom for starting pay across Texas, according to an ABC13 analysis of first-year firefighters across the state.


ABC13 asked for actual base salary amounts (not salary schedules) for firefighters in the top ten most populous cities in Texas. In those requests, we asked cities to break out any additional pay amounts, like that for equipment or longevitiy incentives. Our analysis focused on first-year firefighters only and did not include pay for probationary or cadets.

At the bottom of the list is El Paso, with an average starting pay of $41,275. Next to last is Houston, with an average starting salary of $43,528.

The average across the top ten cities is $52,784. The city of Plano is at the top for starting salary with an average of $67,077.

The proposition is something the city cannot afford, Mayor Sylvester Turner has said repeatedly, including in television ads paid for by his campaign and a political action committee supported by the Turner camp and the Houston Police Officer's Union.

The parity issue was spearheaded by the Houston Professional Fire Fighter's Association. It's leader says Houston firefighters haven't received a pay raise in years and are continuing to fall behind.

Marty Lancton, president of the HPFFA, said if the pay parity issue passes, he will work with city leaders to implement the changes, promising that will lessen the blow on city finances.

Turner says that he won't have that option because the ballot language doesn't allow for it.

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