We’ll see what City Council makes of the firefighter pay agreement

There’s a bit of pushback happening.

Mayor John Whitmire

Mayor John Whitmire’s administration and officials from the Houston firefighters union are hoping to get final approval in May or June on a massive settlement deal to end their nearly decade-long contract stalemate.

The two sides announced last week they signed an agreement that would give firefighters $650 million in backpay, along with up to 34% in raises over the next five years. They were in court Monday morning to notify the judge overseeing the 7-year-old court case on the matter that they had reached a deal.

They did not file the settlement, though, and attorneys for both sides said after the hearing that it would take some time to work through the approval process. Judge Lauren Reeder must sign off on the final agreement, but the Texas Attorney General’s Office also must sign off on the judgment bond – the order that will allow the city to spread the $650 million cost of the backpay over 25 to 30 years.

Lawyers for both sides said they want bond attorneys to review the settlement’s language before they file it in court. City Attorney Arturo Michel said they are aiming to finalize everything in the city’s current fiscal year, which ends June 30.


Meanwhile, at least two City Council members began raising concerns about the financial consequences of the deal. Council Members Edward Pollard and Tiffany Thomas wrote a letter Monday to Whitmire asking for more details on the arrangement.

“We are in agreement that our firefighters must be paid a competitive salary, however, due to minimal engagement from your office on any specifics, and non-response from you to previous emails on the subject, we have questions on whether the proposed deals is in the city’s best financial interest, or will it ultimately cause dire fiscal challenges that will impact services city wide for years to come,” the two council members wrote.

Budget Director Melissa Dubowski has said the city will have to close a $160 million budget gap in the next fiscal year, a figure that does not account for the firefighters’ raises. City Hall and union officials so far have declined to answer questions about specific details of the deal that go beyond the information they have released in press releases, citing the confidential nature of the mediation talks.

Whitmire’s office has not said how much the projected raises, which include a 10% pay hike on July 1, will cost, or how it plans to pay for them.

Pollard and Thomas asked how Houston firefighters’ current compensation compares to other Texas cities, whether the administration plans to ask voters to amend or eliminate the city’s cap on property tax revenue growth to help pay for the deal and what interest rate the city will have to pay on the $650 million judgment bond, among other questions.

See here for the previous update. CMs Pollard and Thomas ask some good questions, and don’t seem too happy with the level of responsiveness they are getting from the Mayor at this time. Maybe they’re out on an island, and maybe they can cobble together seven other skeptics to block approval of this deal until they can get some questions answered. At the very least, pushing hard for the repeal or revision of the stupid revenue cap has to be on the table – there’s just no way to make this work without more revenue for the city, and that’s before we get to the promise to hire more cops. Asking for the details is hardly asking for a lot. Let’s start there and see where we go.

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23 Responses to We’ll see what City Council makes of the firefighter pay agreement

  1. David Fagan says:

    “don’t seem too happy with the level of responsiveness”?

    “Asking for the details is hardly asking for a lot.”?

    Pollard voted FOR millions of dollars in legal ‘representation’ for the city including supporting more money for their ‘representation’ this past August 2023. When their hired representation was in court in September 2023 they told the judge they had NO financial data ready and it would take “some time” for finance to put together something to present.  This tells me the previous EIGHT YEARS the city did NOTHING to research this issue, which would be the answers Pollard and Thomas are seeking (if they are genuine in their inquiry). It really brings it home that the City really did absolutely NOTHING toward trying to resolve this issue, except pushing it through every avenue of the courts. That action makes it obvious how much the previous administration valued the firefighters, and it feels like in word only. But, after eight years, even the court system runs out of avenues. Everyone knew about this issue and the previous mayor wanted to ignore it and he was supported, even on this blog, in doing so, using the court system and people’s tax dollars to avoid his own problem and his own responsibility. Now these days are here, no one can say they didn’t have a chance to ask questions or do their own research, and blaming a new mayor while not taking the chance, when they had it, to hold the previous mayor responsible, AND voting to spend taxpayer money solely to keep this issue in court long enough for Turner to leave office, it screams disingenuous and hollow.

  2. David Fagan says:

    These city council members should have been livid at the lawyers hired to ‘represent’ the city who showed up to court in September 2023 and told the court they had NO financial data ready and it would take “some time” for finance to put together something to present.  These council members should have been asking what did they approve millions of dollars in legal representation and they didn’t have any financial information in a court hearing about PAY AND BENEFITS? But, they didn’t, so if they were happy with the city having no financial information then, why do they care now? It’s hard to believe they didn’t understand their lawyers were only a delay and avoid tactic and there was no importance on gaining the information they want now. There’s to much history to try to avoid this.

  3. Meme says:

    What is the mayor hiding, David? Will he let the council vote on the matter before accepting a court order? That is typical Whitmire. He already announced $40 a month garbage fees.

  4. David Fagan says:

    Idk, but if you cared about this issue, you’ve had plenty of time, it’s a little late when there’s judges involved and the issue has been hashed out for too long. So, don’t start caring now.

  5. Meme says:

    David, you did not make any sense. There was nothing on the table before; now there is. I do wonder if anything was given underneath the table.

  6. David Fagan says:

    Watch the city council meeting for Wednesday, they discuss this issue more than the last eight years combined.

  7. C.L. says:


    Pay HFD the backpay funds via (the reinstitution of) red light camera tickets.

  8. I wonder if city council could raise the local sales tax rate 1 cent and then use the proceeds to fund the fire fighter raises and back pay. Doing this instead of issuing more bond debt would allow the City to avoid paying 30 years worth of interest on that new debt (saving city taxpayers over $100 million dollars). If this option would require voter approval (due to the revenue cap laws), then the City should go ahead and put this option on the November ballot. The choice to voters would be whether they want to save $100+ million dollars in interest payments or not. I’d rather City taxpayers keep that money instead of giving it to the big banks.

  9. David Fagan says:

    People should take C.L’S approach and ignore it, it’ll go away.

  10. Meme says:

    I want to know which judge will approve that much debt on the citizens of Houston so that I can campaign against him or her. Twenty-five to thirty years to pay about a billion dollars.

    Greg, the city can’t raise the sales tax, which is set by state law. The state takes 6% of the 8.25 percent of the sales tax. That is how the state gets most of its money: a surplus of over 30 billion dollars.

  11. Thanks for the info, Meme. I read the info from the State Comptroller’s Office (see link) and it appeared that local cities could adjust their sales tax rate.


  12. David Fagan says:

    Here you go, Manny,

    Judge Lauren Reeder

    Looks like she attended Harvard Law School, where she was the Co-Chair of La Alianza, the Latino Law Students’ Association.

    So, go out there and get angry.

  13. mollusk says:

    Sure, cities can adjust their sales tax rate, but Houston’s already at the 2% cap.

  14. Meme says:

    She hasn’t agreed to anything yet. At least you told us you get angry and seem to have racist tendencies, my opinion, David.

  15. David Fagan says:

    Is it her job to agree to anything? She is not a party in the case.

  16. Meme says:

    David, She can rule that the voters must decide. It will take 25-30 years to pay off the billion-dollar debt that is being placed on the homeowners. Raising water rates on people who can’t afford it to pay first responders salaries that, in my opinion, are too high. Most first responders don’t even live in the city. I knew one fireman who lived in San Antonio.

    Greg, the State has had billions in surplus from the sales tax it collects. They get 6%. They should either lower the sales tax or reduce it by one percent and allow the cities to collect that amount.

    The average Texan pays more in sales tax than they do in property tax.

  17. David Fagan says:

    Something you have to remember, this is a settlement between two parties. I don’t know where a judge comes in at this point and make a decision that it cannot move forward, thus allowing the case to go back to before the settlement and the city accruing even more liability. Remember, courts have ruled that the city has a liability to be responsible for this, so, thank you for the input.

  18. mollusk says:

    I haven’t taken the time to go into the weeds to see what sort of review is called for in this particular case, but there are a number of situations where settlements have to be approved by a judge. Any settlement that results in entry of a judgment (as opposed to just dismissing the case) goes before a judge, since that’s who signs the judgment. It’s not unusual for a judge to tweak the language, even with an agreed judgment; a extra set of eyes is very useful with a complicated settlement (particularly if those eyes aren’t aligned with any given party). Additionally, in some cases a judge is needed to review a settlement generally to see if it’s fair, which may or may not apply here.

    Judge Reeder is highly respected and in my experience very well prepared for whatever comes before her.

  19. Meme says:

    At the very least, I expect the City Council to approve the settlement. I know that I vote in primaries and that I would have trouble voting for anyone that settled me with debt for over 25 years without my having a chance to vote on it.

    No matter how qualified or well respected they are, I guess next time the police want a pay raise, they should file a lawsuit, agree on a settlement, and have the judge okay tens of years of debt on the residents.

  20. Meme says:

    David: What do I tell the elderly? I am in my mid-70s, and the person is in her 90s. She has cut cable and the ability to watch one of the few programs she enjoys making ends meet. She called me yesterday as her water bill went from $36 to $138. What do I tell her, David, that the fireman wants to make $80,000 a year and have a pension worth millions, so she has to pay? Maybe another $40 a month to make David Fagan happy? John Whitmire happy?

    My water bill has gone from the sixty-dollar range to the $180 range.

  21. David Fagan says:

    It sounds like negotiations were best for all parties involved, but that ship sailed with the previous mayor. Everyone knew this was coming, it was not a secret. People pressed the snooze alarm on this issue, and there is no blaming firefighters.

    So will the city be more open to negotiations next time? I would think so, that makes Houston a better and safer place to live in that day. This whole ordeal strengthened collective bargaining in this state, HPFFA directly influenced the charter amendment allowing city council members to get items on the ballot- through the discovery of how extremely difficult it was to get the mayor to negotiate, which never happened. Houston is changed for the better because of this. It will influence the direction this city goes, and for that I am very proud of the men and women I block walked with, all the way through Boykins, and I’m proud of Marty Lancton, and I’m proud of the union i am a part of. If you don’t like that, then God Bless You Darlin.

  22. Meme says:

    Screw the people, we want more money. Yeah, I understand where most of you stand.

    Really? We will get more police and firemen/women, but it’s not happening. They can’t afford what they have.

    Firefighters were greedy; ask the police union why they got a contract and you didn’t. Where are all the extra police?

  23. David Fagan says:

    God bless you darlin….

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