HOUSTON – A clearly frustrated Houston mayor warned Wednesday of pending layoffs after voters approved a measure aimed at pairing the pay of city firefighters with that of their police counterparts.
The measure, listed on the ballot as Proposition B, passed with a 19-point margin Tuesday.
Mayor Sylvester Turner began the discussion Wednesday by recognizing that the voters have spoken and that the city must now figure out how to pay for the annual $100 million being added to the budget.
“That is a huge mountain to climb,” Turner said. “I will be very, very honest and very candid with you, I don’t know how we’re going to pay for it.”
During Wednesday’s council meeting, Turner said the Fire Department will be the first place he will look for the money to cover the measure. He said he has already instructed Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena to move the department to a three-shift rotation instead of four and look at other ways to reduce costs. He also said there will not be any new personnel hired at the department any time soon.
“It doesn’t make sense to bring on anyone and then have to lay people off,” Turner said.
Turner said officials are looking at how to rework the classification of employees within the Fire Department to determine how layoffs will proceed, which will have to be approved by the City Council.
There is still much to be discussed and decided, Turner said, but he said one thing is for sure – major changes are required.
“We did not ask for this, but we are obligated to balance our books,” Turner said, looking around the room at the council members. “It will be a disruption of services. It will be. There will be layoffs.”
Council members agreed that they will wait to move forward on the issue for two weeks while all of the options are weighed.
Turner said his understanding is that the new ordinance takes effect Jan. 1.