After weeks of delay and questions over whether or not the Houston City Controller would certify or sign off on the mayor’s proposed 5-year collective bargaining agreement with the city’s firefighters, the City Council unanimously approved the agreement 14-0 with three council members absent. 

The proposal was approved a week after an associated $650 million bond payment for back pay to the firefighters was approved. 

Despite the eight-year battle between the city and its firefighters now being in the past, the mayor and council are left figuring out how to pay for it. 

Councilmember Ed Pollard pushed the mayor on how, exactly, the agreement will be paid, which with the debt service payment for the bond totals at least $72 million per year in additional city expenses.

The mayor said he would be looking at support from the state next legislative session, a possible lift of Houston’s local property tax cap, and potentially more bonds to cover the expenses.

For weeks, council members have complained about the price and process, saying that it was too expensive for a city already facing a deficit to take on additional costs, and the process was not transparent, as it was shielded from the public until a final product was ready.

Mayor John Whitmire contended that because there was a pending court hearing regarding the settlement, he could not discuss details publicly, including how the two parties reached an agreement of $650 million. He also said that if they took it to trial rather than settled out of court, they would look at a liability that could top $1 billion.

The agreement and settlement will take effect and be disbursed on July 1, the start of fiscal year 2025.

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.