Billion-dollar Houston firefighters deal yet to go before city council as fiscal year deadline looms

Shannon Ryan Image
Wednesday, June 5, 2024
City controller pulls Houston firefighters deal from council agenda
The $650 million deal to finance Houston firefighters' raises has yet to be tendered. The city controller said his team needs more time to look at it.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Up to $8 billion were at stake at Wednesday's Houston City Council meeting, ahead of the fiscal year's start on July 1.

The $6.7 billion city budget and a $650 million settlement to end a bitter eight-year stalemate between the firefighters' union and city were teed up. The fire union agreement is one that Controller Chris Hollins predicts will cost more than $1 billion in total.

"We're going to be issuing a bond to pay for it. That bond, if you look at interest rates that are currently in the market right now, and the fact that this will be a 25- or 30-year payment, similar to a mortgage on a home, it's going to cost us somewhere between $1.1 and $1.3 billion," Hollins explained.

SEE ALSO: City council delays vote on Houston's $6.7 billion budget proposal

Council members were set to tag both items, meaning they were going to delay voting on them for at least a week. Before the council could tag the firefighters' agreement, Hollins, tasked with certifying any financial items that go before the council, said he could not do so.

"My office received for the first time the collective bargaining agreement and the back pay agreement Monday afternoon, and so, we've had less than two days now to consider," Hollins explained.

The agreements combined are approximately 150 pages.

SEE ALSO: Houston firefighters, working without contract for 7 years, reach deal, city announces

"You do understand it was going to be tagged this morning, which would give you an additional week? But, obviously, you have your responsibilities," Houston Mayor John Whitmire replied during Wednesday's proceedings.

In response, Hollins said, "Exactly. I have my responsibilities, so we need to understand it before we move forward with it."

Hollins later told ABC13, "It's something that we take seriously because my kids are still gonna be paying for this when they're taxpaying adults."

Whitmire's office confirmed both items will be posted on the agenda next week. The delay gives the council time to submit additional budget amendments.

The amendments include requesting approximately half a dozen auditors be sent to the controller's office and increasing the salary of a current auditor.

Hollins said the auditors will be tasked with finding ways to fill the forecasted $200 million budget shortfall. The mayor said he will not look to increase revenue until the following year. Hollins said a possible tax increase and garbage fee are on the table.

Hollins told ABC13 that if the firefighters' agreement is not approved before July 1, Whitmire could authorize the firefighter raises set to take effect on that date.

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