Still waiting on details for paying the firefighters

A lot of the same stuff we’ve heard before here, but a little bit more details.

Mayor John Whitmire

Houston Mayor John Whitmire detailed his last three months as the fourth-largest city’s top boss and outlined some of his ongoing projects in a one-on-one conversation with former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett Wednesday night.

Some of those plans include seeking voter approval to raise the property tax revenue cap and using his political experience to “mend” government relationships among local and state officials, which he addressed at an event with the Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Here are some important takeaways from the discussion:

The city is considering multiple ways to halt its anticipated economic shortfalls and pay for massive deals with some of its first responders. Whitmire believes all options are up for discussion. “We’re going to put everything on the table,” Whitmire said when asked how Houston plans to pay for the projected $1.3 billion firefighter deal. “We are the only major city in the state that doesn’t have a garbage fee,” he added.

In addition to a possible garbage fee, Whitmire plans to ask voters to increase their property taxes, a potential hike the city hasn’t seen in nearly two decades. “I will ask the public to make an exception for public safety on the revenue cap,” he said. “It would be $15 a month to have the response time for fire and police that I think a safe city needs. We’re a great city but we’ve got to protect our investment and go forward.”


While the city faces a potential $200 million budget hole, Whitmire suggested combining city and county department services to save some money, which could result in layoffs. It’s still unclear how the project would be implemented, but he said he’s open to the idea.

“We got two library systems and two parks, and I could go on and on,” Whitmire said. “We got 85 law enforcement agencies in Harris County. They don’t even talk to each other. They can’t talk to each other and help each other on the radio.”

There’s more in this earlier Chron story. The Houston Landing went into some detail about the pushback Mayor Whitmire has been getting from Council. The main new information here is the number specified for a property tax rate hike, though how much that might raise and how that would work with both the city and state revenue caps is unclear to me. Consolidating services with Harris County is an ongoing project – certainly the library is a ripe target for that given the recent goings on. It does take two to tango, and as much as the Mayor likes to talk about improving relations with the state government, he shouldn’t lose sight of the relationship we have with our county government. Some of the commissioners are fond of bicycles. I’m just saying.

Anyway. It’s my understanding that members of Council still haven’t seen the deal details, which one assumes they will need to do in order to vote on it. We still don’t know what a bond issue to fund the back pay looks like. I at least don’t know what happens if we do have a vote and it ends in failure. There’s still a lot to do, and there’s still a budget to write and pass. On we go.

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28 Responses to Still waiting on details for paying the firefighters

  1. David Fagan says:

    And everyone tells the City Council it is the best agreement available, will they listen to the city attorney and comptroller now?

  2. Meme says:

    Who is everyone? The controller does not know the terms, neither do the council members. Whitmire claims that the settlement prohibits them from giving all the details.

    What I did hear at the council session is that the council members that were asking questions to have been harassed for questioning the settlement.

    The fireman that responded to what I wrote suggested I was demented.

    But it is looking like that it may have to go the residents of Houston for a vote. Too bad that most Firefighters don’t live in Houston, they won’t be able to vote.

    I will be waiting to see about the garbage fee as I will recommend that our HOA go private as it may be cheaper to do that for the homeowners, if it is approved.

  3. David Fagan says:

    It sounds to me you also heard what the city attorney stated about what happens if it doesn’t go through.

    I also know you are an intelligent and diligent person and watched till the end when Marty Lancton spoke and made himself available, as he has always done, in the name of transparency to all the city council members. I would encourage you to call your city council member and ask them if they have reached out to Marty Lancton and discussed the questions YOU may have, because that is what they’re there for.

    Don’t forget that this is not something that occurred overnight, this is something that developed over an entire 2 terms of a Houston Mayor, who proved that the office of Mayor can create these problems and more, so yes, if confidentiality is important, than it’s important in this case.

  4. Meme says:

    Yes, I heard what the city attorney said. He is appointed by the mayor and can be fired by the mayor for reason or no reason.

    Things will be leaked, I will wait for the leaks.

    Privatize EMS, problem solved.

  5. David Fagan says:

    Manny, there’s nothing to hide, contact your local city council representation and ask questions.

  6. C.L. says:

    Bottom line is, this debacle is going to end up making a lot of firefighters rich, and costing the residents of Houston a shit ton of money over a very period of time.

  7. Meme says:

    Watch the video, the entire video of what Whitmire said, and the questions that were asked and not answered.

  8. David Fagan says:

    Manny, that is old news by now, the ‘Fire Chief’ was at the past financial committee meeting and answered all those questions, so, anyway….

  9. Meme says:

    Sorry, Darling, but more will come out, just like today’s Chronicle article on how the city attorney was told to settle as quickly as possible. There is much more that will be coming out.

    David, was it Whitmire who pushed that special Houston firefighters overtime provision at the state?

  10. David Fagan says:

    You figured it out Manny-Q, there’s a conspiracy that started with the firefighters supporting Turner and Turner stealing the pension thus firefighters wanting the standard of pay outlined by state law, it was all a ‘spiracy when Turner didn’t negotiate, take everything to court, running the city’s liabilities to pay their employees, your right Manny-Q, you have a unique knowledge and foresight that only belongs to you.

  11. Meme says:

    $40 a month garbage fee = $480
    $15 a month increase in taxes = $180

    Total increase to make firefighters richer = $660 a year

    On the back of people that will never make that much money.

  12. David Fagan says:

    Isn’t all that called supply and demand? I remember in the midst of this issue people commenting that supply and demand applies, and I guess they were right, didn’t you mr. Manny argue for supply and demand? Now, Houston’s demand for firefighters is larger than it’s supply.

  13. Meme says:

    Well let us cut the demand;

    Go to three shift rotation, about 1,000 less firefighters, keep some discard the others.

    Do like most other major cities in Texas, EMS are not firefighters.

    Did you read Texas monthly?

    “Whitmire argues that the deal is preferable to the possibility of losing in court, which could expose the city to even higher costs.

    But given Whitmire’s longstanding ties to the firefighters’ union, for which he once worked as a lobbyist and which endorsed his mayoral campaign, many see the settlement as a quid pro quo. Whitmire has yet to explain how he intends to pay for the billion-dollar deal. For perspective, the fire department’s entire 2024 budget is $593 million. “This wasn’t a negotiation,” said one former city hall employee who requested anonymity. “This was a complete f—ing surrender. He basically gave them a blank check.”

  14. David Fagan says:

    You have a point, I actually called Mayor Turner and asked what he thinks about this situation he put the city in over the last eight years. He said “It’s not my problem anymore”.

    You have some great ideas there, Manny, you should contact your City Council Representative about them and let then know.

    There’s also one party you forget to include in all of this and that is the Judge that is looking over it all, because if the City and Firefighters don’t come to an agreement, the court, or another third party, will. There’s no way around this issue, and that’s the fact of the matter.

  15. David Fagan says:

    Do you suggest the city continue in court? What’s the outcome you’re willing to gamble for?

  16. Meme says:

    Keep it in court; they can keep it there for years; in the meantime, they can do as all the other major cities in Texas and not have EMS as firefighters.

    Privatize EMS.

    Just pointing out that I am not the only one questioning the settlement, you claiming I am Q or your fire buddy claiming I have dementia, won’t stop me from pointing out problems with how this was done.

    My understanding is that the police union will probably oppose it, as it will hurt them and their ability to negotiate better contracts. It is easier to find firefighters than police.

    Unlike most firefighters, I live in Houston and care about it.

    I believe Bill White was mayor in 2004, so the trouble started at least then. He also blamed the previous mayor for the budget deficits, but he didn’t give away the horses and barns to curry favor with firefighters.

  17. David Fagan says:

    If you’re proud of the pension reform, be proud of this b/c pension reform begat fire fighter settlement.

  18. Meme says:

    David you are too uptight about what is happening.

  19. C.L. says:

    If Whitmire somehow shifts a $1.3B cost to the citizens of Houston, ’cause ya know, that’s the platform he ran on with regards to this debacle (pay the men their money), he’s gonna be a one-and-done kinda Mayor… and in 2028 the local government and council members will still be tied up in court litigayshuns with how this all hashed out and is gonna hash out.

  20. David Fagan says:

    It could certainly go to arbitration. It’s an issue, and liability, the city is responsible for by law. Everyone was plain happy when the pension was taken, and didn’t think twice about the gap in pay, though it was spoken about no end. Don’t forget the previous mayor could only appeal, appeal, and appeal again. The citizens should be angry over how he used tax money to create this situation and escape responsibility. That is what created this situation, so prevent another administration from creating such a debacle, such as supporting binding arbitration. Which, was challenged by Turner also. Don’t forget how you got to this point. A lot of people pushed the snooze button on this also, so remember that.

  21. mollusk says:

    Privatizing EMS is a terrible idea. HFD took over EMS back in the early 70s because of problems with private ambulance services, which at the time were basically high roofed station wagons with a stretcher inside and lights on top a la Ghost Busters. HFD was one of the pioneers of the mobile ERs we have now (and which most of the private services still don’t use), and they will come out, do whatever triage is necessary, and if need be take you to the most appropriate hospital regardless of what your insurance status is or what I’ll just call “other considerations.” AFAIK the only significant incremental cost of having HFD as the first responders for medical calls is the ambulances – the EMTs are fire fighters, too.

  22. Meme says:

    City going broke is not such a great idea.

    Some major cities use private EMS.

    Need to keep options open, if taxpayers say no to a tax increase. The 2006 tax increase for more police did not give us more police.

  23. C.L. says:

    A 20 year old study, er… ‘How To Guide #14’, isn’t swaying me one way or the other. I’ve been a few HFD ambulances over the last couple years and it made me extremely grateful I wasn’t in the back of any one of many JinkyTown EMS/Ambulances-R-Us units I see dropping off folks in the Med Ctr.

  24. Meme says:

    C.L. They are not all JinkyTown, but if the vehicle impresses you, then the city can supply that; the Emergency personnel can be private or not part of the fire department or health department, maybe if they do not want private.

    Firefighters do need a pay raise, but let them send it to the committee, as they are doing with every agenda item.

    We are already screwed on the water rates we are paying. I am sure the City Council has no qualms about raising taxes, but will the voters support a substantial increase?

  25. David Fagan says:

    While all fire and EMS programs around Houston are competing for the same pool of people, where are all these highly trained ems personnel coming from, and what keeps them from going somewhere else when you want them at a discount?

  26. Meme says:

    I don’t, David. What keeps the firefighters from going somewhere else?

  27. David Fagan says:

    They have been for the last 8 years. There are Senior Captains working in fire fighter positions on overtime. That’s paying a senior captain overtime pay for his rank and they working in the position of a fire fighter. This type of thing happens regularly now. So, if Houston could keep firefighters, and pay a firefighter to do that job, which the position is budgeted for, then there’ll be savings right there.

  28. Meme says:

    Why are there still thousands that have not left? The grass is greener on the other side.

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