67 HFD cadets, 47 municipal workers to be laid off in wake of Prop B dispute

HOUSTON – KPRC2 has learned that dozens of Houston Fire Department cadets and municipal workers will be laid off due to the implementation of Proposition B.

A layoff notification letter from Houston Fire Department Chief Samuel Pena obtained Thursday by KPRC2 states the layoffs were the result of a budget shortfall due to Prop B and that the last day of work for the firefighter trainee addressed in the letter would be June 7.

The mayor's office said 67 cadets were sent layoff notifications.

Later Thursday afternoon, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner issued a statement that confirmed the HFD layoffs and also said 47 municipal workers would be laid off as a result of the implementation of Prop B, as well. Those workers will be informed next week, Turner said.

Turner said the layoffs come due to a lack of funding for Prop B. He said the proposition adds about $80 to $100 million to the city's bottom line each year and the budget has to be balanced by the start of the next fiscal year, which is July 1.

"Proposition B came without a funding source as it adds $80 million to $100 million a year to the city's bottom line. At the same time, the city is experiencing a $117 million budget gap, with the cost of Prop B added on top of that," Turner said in the statement.

The letter that was sent to cadets read in part:

"The City of Houston has experienced a sizeable budget shortfall due to the implementation of Prop B. I am sorry to have to notify you that your position is being eliminated by virtue of a force reduction (layoff) and your last day of employment with the City of Houston will be June 7, 2019 close of business.

"I want to assure you that the elimination of your position was a business decision and does not reflect your work performance or the value we place on your service to the City. To balance our budget, we were forced to make extremely difficult decisions.

"Thank you for the service you have provided to the City of Houston and the Houston Fire Department. I am committed to making every effort to support you in any way I can during this most difficult time. We wish you the very best with your future employment endeavors."

Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, released the following statement ripping Turner and urging the City Council to push back against the mayor's actions:

"Sylvester Turner's layoff notices to taxpayer-funded, Houston-trained HFD cadets reflect the mayor's ineptitude, egotism, and a new depth of his vindictiveness.

"Today marks another sordid chapter of Turner's reckless neglect of the fire department and his contempt for firefighter families and 298,000 Proposition B voters.

"As the mayor knows, the announced HFD cadet layoffs are preventable. We hope more Houston City Council members finally will stand up to Turner and reject his slash-and-burn plan for HFD. His next move likely will be to lay off more firefighters and close fire stations in city council districts throughout the city. In the meantime, we urge citizens to contact their City Council members about the threatened HFD cadet and firefighter layoffs.

"The consequences of Turner's endless political and legal war on firefighters families will soon include diminished public safety - from slower response times to unavailability of critical fire and  EMS  resources in times of peak demand.  

"Today's firefighter cadet layoff notices, which followed the city's announcement of a new Houston Police Department class this week and his recent hiring of hundreds of police and civilian employees, also show once again that the mayor manufactured a fiscal crisis to justify his intensifying retaliation against firefighters."

The mayor has said in recent months that up to 500 firefighters could be laid off.

Turner's office said last month, "Because the city must give employees 60 days' notice, notification letters would go out the first part of April while the city continues to find ways to balance the budget and minimize layoffs."

Voters approved Prop B last November.

Turner issued the following statement:

"Proposition B came without a funding source as it adds $80 million to $100 million a year to the city's bottom line. At the same time, the city is experiencing a $117 million budget gap, with the cost of Prop B added on top of that.

"By law, the city must balance its budget before the start of the next fiscal year, July 1.

"The City asked Patrick "Marty" Lancton of the firefighters' association to phase in Prop B over five years to avoid any layoffs of firefighters and municipal workers. He refused and is demanding the immediate implementation of Prop B. The City is doing precisely that. But it will require layoffs to balance the city's budget.

"Today the 67 fire cadets received notice that they will be laid off in 60 days. Next week 47 municipal workers will receive notices. And on April 17, City Council will vote on layoffs of classified (first responder) personnel.

"In the absence of a phased-in approach, the City's options are limited when we must balance our budget by the end of June."

Fire Chief Samuel Peña's statement:

"Today, regrettably, due to the financial impact of implementing Proposition B, we began the reduction in force process by issuing a 60-day layoff notice to each of the 67 fire cadets.

"It is an action I hoped we would not have to take, but on the other hand, we cannot ignore the cost of Prop B. Bridging a $20 million reduction in the HFD budget has forced me to make some extremely difficult decisions.

"The layoffs are not effective until June 7, 2019. In the 60-day interim, I hope that an agreement can be reached with the fire union that will allow us to rescind the layoff notices, swear-in the cadets and focus on continuing the efficient delivery of service to this community.

"The best way to honor the will of the voters, pay our firefighters and minimize the impact is to phase-in the full implementation of Proposition B."