Houston Firefighters took to the streets of Kingwood Wednesday morning to meet with business owners and citizens. Most of the firefighters, riding in a wagon covered in signs asking Houston citizens for support on Proposition B. The wagon, pulled by Pat and Jane, both Mules drew many smiles and waves, many children simply amazed by the animals.
From Marty Lancton, President of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association:
Houston firefighters cost-effectively protect countless billions of dollars of business and private property within the city of Houston. Our insurance rates are lower because of the strong rating of the fire service. And with an average of about 1,000 fire and EMS calls a day, we have one of the nation’s busiest and most advanced fire departments.
But a generation of neglect by city politicians has diminished the Houston Fire Department fleet, facilities, and our ability to retain experienced, HFD-trained firefighters. Hundreds of firefighters have retired or left for other departments recently. Big-city and suburban departments alike now target HFD.
During the past decade, Houston firefighters watched our pay dramatically erode. As city politicians found ways to increase pay for police officers by 37 percent since 2011, our pay has risen by only three percent in that time. In Dallas, however, a starting firefighter now makes $60,000 – about twice that of a new Houston firefighter.
By voting “YES” for Proposition B in the Nov. 6 election, voters can help take the politics out of public safety in Houston. Firefighters have asked the city for competitive pay and better working conditions for several years. This followed our giving the city major concessions after the economy collapsed in 2008. City promises of better pay when the economy improved were not kept. During that time, the city quietly spent hundreds of millions to make police pay competitive – without phony city budget crises or threats to layoff or cut city services.
Some suggest fire and police jobs are different and should not be linked by pay. In fact, fire and police are paid equally on a rank-by-rank basis throughout the U.S. – including in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, and San Antonio. The five branches of the military also have equal-pay structures for hundreds of jobs. And in Houston, the pay of City Council members is linked with that of local judges.
The city’s claims of so-called offers of firefighter pay raise in recent years are mostly political smoke and mirrors. The proposed “raises” offers came with major workplace concessions, thousands of dollars of increased health insurance premiums per firefighter, and continuing threats of firefighters layoffs and station closures. In other words, the city demanded we fund our own pay raises.
Some ask how firefighter raises should be funded. Since Houston has a cap on property taxes, voting “yes” for Prop B would not raise taxes. HFD generates more than $100 million annually in business permits, fees, and other services. Simply moving that revenue to the fire department budget, instead of raking it into the general fund, would fund the pay raise. And since not one cent of the voter-approved Prop H “public safety” fund created in 2006 – which can generate up to $90 million per year – has gone to the fire department budget, the city’s expenditures from this fund deserve further scrutiny.
In June, a scientific survey was taken of Houston residents. More than 75 percent of the surveyed citizens supported compensating our fire and police professionals equally. They recognized that the requirements and risks of the two jobs are similar. We also remain grateful that fire and EMS remain the top-rated service provided by the city.
Through it all, we continue to strive to maintain the trust of the communities we serve. With that in mind, we respectfully ask Houston voters to approve a hard-earned firefighter pay raise. Please vote yes for Proposition B.
Marty Lancton is president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association.