Houston City Council unanimously approves more than $1 billion firefighter settlement

Shannon Ryan Image
Wednesday, June 19, 2024
Houston City Council approves more than $1B firefighter settlement
Houston City Council unanimously approved a backpay settlement and labor agreement with the Houston Fire Department Tuesday.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston's bitter eight-year dispute with its fire department is over.

The City Council unanimously approved a massive settlement Tuesday that, according to City Controller Chris Hollins, could cost taxpayers up to $1.5 billion over the next 25 to 30 years.

Employees will get at least 24% raises over the next five years and lump-sum checks for back pay. Preliminary calculations show individual firefighters will receive tens of thousands of dollars in pay bumps come July.

"We still have to buy houses. We still have to buy cars. We still have to live. We want to entertain ourselves. We want to go on trips. So, it's kind of one of those things where, now, we were able to do that and were able to do that more comfortably. We're able to live as most Americans want to live," firefighter and union leader Ray Cormier said.

Union President Marty Lanction said morale plummeted in the eight years firefighters worked without a contract.

He said the department hemorrhaged employees while struggling to attract new talent.

13 Investigates found the department had 232 fewer firefighters this April than in April 2015.

"We are open for business. Please, come apply," Lancton said.

In a statement, Hollins told Houston Mayor John Whitmire it remains unclear how the city will pay for the $650 million deal. Taking into account interest on the refunding bonds, he estimates it will cost $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion.

Read the full memo below:

"I think we've all calculated how old we will be when we've paid this off. I'll be 79. We don't take it lightly," Mayor Pro-Tem Martha Castex Tatum said.

Hollins said the city will burn through about 40% of its fund balance, which he equated to a savings account, to make up the deficit this year.

"I do not believe that for one moment that anyone on this horseshoe, especially the mayor, wants to bankrupt the city," At-Large Position 4 Council Member Leticia Plummer said.

Hollins said the city needs to identify new revenue sources. Whitmire declined to identify new revenue sources for this new budget cycle, beginning July 1.

He said he will do so the following year, citing ongoing audits and corruption cases.

The council has floated raising everything from property taxes to garbage fees.

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