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HFD Chief warns of layoffs

To be fair, this isn’t the first time we have heard this.

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña on Tuesday warned of dire consequences — including possible layoffs of more than 800 firefighters and deferred maintenance or upgrades on aging equipment, if voters approve the firefighters’ pay parity initiative on the November ballot.

Peña’s warning came during a City Council Committee on Budget & Fiscal Affairs meeting to provide city leaders with their first look at how the Houston Fire Department might handle the costs of the ballot measure, which proposes to raise firefighter pay to that of their police peers.

In its latest estimate, the Turner administration says approval of the referendum would cost the city $98 million in its first year and would lead to cuts at the fire department as well as in other city agencies.

“A reduction of this size in personnel cannot be accomplished without a major restructuring of the current operations,” said Tantri Emo, director of the city’s finance department. Emo said the city’s $98 million estimate million came from comparing salaries of firefighters and police at similar ranks, and said the city did not yet have estimates that might factor in costs to the city’s pension system.

Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Marty Lancton questioned the city’s calculation on how much pay parity would actually cost taxpayers. Lancton repeated past assertions that the city refused to negotiate or work with firefighters on issues ranging from pay to operations to equipment, but he did not provide the union’s cost estimates.

Emphasis mine. We all agree that this referendum will cost the city some money if passed, right? I mean, there’d be literally no point for the HPFFA to push for it if it didn’t mean higher pay for their members. As such, the fact that the union has refused to provide their own number whenever the city has cited one is telling. Obviously, the firefighters are going to argue that the city is exaggerating the cost, and they’re very likely correct about that. But it’s one thing to say “oh, it will only cost $10-20 million”, which the city probably could afford with at most minimal cuts, and another entirely to say “oh, it will only cost $50-60 million”, which the city can’t do without real cuts and starts to sound pretty expensive besides. If the firefighters can’t or won’t provide their own estimate of how much this will cost the city – and let’s be real, they most certainly do have their own estimate – then the city’s number is the one we must accept. And that’s a number that will absolutely lead to job cuts, including among HFD’s ranks.

Will this affect the outcome of the election? Maybe, if the city can get that message out. Holding a few town halls is nice and appreciated, but it’s not going to spread the message far and wide. Remember, nearly 400,000 ballots were cast in the city in 2010, with over 330K votes tallied in the Renew Houston and red light camera elections. You’re not going to reach that many people without significant outreach, and so far all I’ve seen is one pro-firefighter web ad. If there’s a campaign in the works, it’s going to need to get going soon.

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  1. Manny Barrera says:

    I intent to support the pay increase but hope that the firefighters will put all their manpower behind getting rid of the Cap that the City is saddled with.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    It seems like the total cost of this proposal should be easily calculated, and undisputed. Just take the entire roster, perhaps sans names, column A is present salary, column B is proposed salary.

    Add up the difference, and there’s the additional amount it will cost taxpayers.

    HFD can make their proposal about where that money comes from, and Sly can make HIS proposal about where the money would come from.

  3. Steve Houston says:

    Bill, it will also take a team of actuaries to include the impact to pensions, no numbers provided to date including that portion of the cost. When you speak of proposals for finding where the money will come from, I suspect you mean to say that the HFD union can make suggestions since the official department stance is controlled by the mayor, the focus of the article being Chief Pena commenting as though his department bore the full brunt of the budget impact. HFD’s union has consistently refused to suggest cuts because then it puts them in the role of the bad guys, allowing the city to gather additional support from other city workers or their constituents that use those services to be cut.

  4. Diderot Dostoyevsky says:

    As many other commenters have addressed the following issues the mayor is not being honest.

    First the amount was $70 Million, then $80 Million, and now $98 Million per year. The questions not being asked are the following:

    Why does he keep changing numbers? Is he just making them up?

    Why does HPD get to keep half of their $62 Million in revenue when HFD brings in $112 Million and gets to keep nothing?

    Prop H was supposed to go to police fire and ems as an additional amount above the standard funding and not used as an accounting offset. Is any of that money going to the fire department and can the city account for where that money has been spent?

    Voters approved a bond for $159 Million for public safety equipment that you asked us to approve and 111 Million went to HPD why did HFD only $48 Million? This seems to be a recurring theme.

    Mayor Turner what pet projects are you willing to give up to make sure Houston Firefighters aren’t issued their city ID and their food stamps card at the same time?

    Mayor you talk about how much a fire department pay raise will cost. How much did the 34% police pay raise cost the city year over year? Why didn’t you have town halls for those?

    As a final note to Steve Houston I have this to say

  5. Katie says:

    Does the Mayor choose the Fire Chief? I always thought they rise up through the ranks, but I have been hearing and reading that this is not the case for Houston.

    I just wanted clarification. Thanks in advance!