Two Houston City Council members are raising “several key questions and concerns” over the newly crafted settlement agreement between Mayor John Whitmire and the Houston firefighters.

Council Members Ed Pollard of District J and Tiffany Thomas of District F sent the letter to the administration on Monday morning laying out ten questions and concerns they have over the deal. The agreement was announced last week and includes a $650 million back pay settlement for all active firefighters, retired firefighters, families of firefighters who died in the line of duty since 2017, and those who left for medical reasons. It also includes a 10 percent pay increase on July 1, 2024, and a new 5-year contract. 

“We are in agreement that our firefighters must be paid a competitive salary,” read the letter, “however due to minimal engagement from your office on any specifics, and non-response from you to previous emails on the subject, we have questions on whether the proposed deal is in the city’s best financial interest, or will it ultimately cause dire fiscal challenges that will impact services citywide for years to come.” 

The questions posed by the council members are: 

  1. How does the current salary for the Houston Fire Department compare to other major Texas cities?
  2. Citing $17 million given to the firefighters following the passage of the firefighter pay-parity ballot proposition, they asked if that was factored into the negotiations.
  3. How was the current overtime policy for firefighters factored in?
  4. How long will it take to repay the proposed $650 million judgment bond and with how much interest?
  5. Will the bond include payments for pension obligations, and will he consider putting it to the voters in a November election?
  6. Is the administration considering asking voters to raise the local property tax cap to bring it in line with the state-imposed cap?
  7. What is the justification for such an increase in firefighter pay while other departments are being asked to cut 5 percent from their budgets?
  8. How will this agreement affect the city’s financial ability to negotiate contracts with the Houston Police Officers Union and the municipal employees union?
  9. What role did the fire chief have in negotiations?
  10. Will the agreement require a judicial sign-off, approval from the attorney general, and a vote of the city council?

The agreement was supposed to be submitted to the judge today, March 18, and the mayor said a press conference would follow. 

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.