First of 12 town hall meetings held to discuss firefighters' pay, among other things

By Keith Garvin - Anchor/Reporter

HOUSTON - In the first of a series of public meetings on two major propositions Houston residents will vote on in two months, there were fireworks regarding one of them: Proposition B -- known as the Fire Union Petition.

It would automatically raise firefighter pay to equal that of Houston police officers. The measure was brought to the ballot by more than 25,000 signatures -- but Mayor Sylvester Turner is outright asking Houston residents to vote no.

"They are asking the voters to approve, to mandate, that I give them a pay raise of 25 percent," said Turner.  "The city cannot afford 25 percent."

At the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West Gray, the mayor says what isn't in the ballot language is that 25 percent pay raise that would cost the city $98 million a year over the next three years. The city says that would amount to a loss of more than 900 firefighters -- something even the fire chief is against.

"I cannot absorb 900 firefighters and get rid of them and deliver the same level of service this community expects and this community deserves," says Fire Chief Samuel Pena. "And that our firefighters deserve."

No firefighters identified themselves at tonight's contentious meeting, but afterward, the president of the firefighters union released a statement that read in part: "We expected tonight's so-called town hall meeting to be misleading political theatre. It was. We're disappointed that the mayor has ordered the fire chief and president of the police union to attack us in public settings and news interviews as well."

This was the first of 12 town hall meetings the mayor will hold to discuss this this proposition. He is also discussing Proposition A, which would pay for flooding, drainage and street improvements.

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