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Published on June 12, 2024
Houston City Council Approves $650M Bond Issue To Resolve Firefighters' Back Pay DisputeSource: Wikipedia/Daniel2986, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Houston City Council has decisively green-lit the issuance of $650 million in bonds as part of a $1.5 billion contract agreement to settle years of back pay owed to Houston firefighters, reported FOX 26 Houston. The deal also accounts for a 34% pay raise over the forthcoming five years, aiming to bring the firefighters' salaries and benefits in line with comparable departments.

After over eight years of dispute, this represents a significant step towards resolution—but not without resistance. Some council members were concerned about the fiscal implications the settlement could have on the city. Council Member Edward Pollard wanted to know how this could impact taxpayers and inquired about the methodology behind the $650 million figure, as reported by Click2Houston. His proposal to put the matter to a public vote, however, was shut down by Mayor John Whitmire, who argued there wasn't time enough to hold a public vote and any delays could potentially cause the entire deal to collapse.

The majority of council members backed the deal, passing it by a 14 to 3 vote. Mayor Whitmire highlighted that the agreement would save taxpayers from potentially greater liabilities, warning that a billion dollars or more could be at stake if the case returns to court. He asserted that the deal is not only financially sound for the city but is also a pivotal measure to improve public safety.

Despite the passage, lingering skepticism remained among council members, including Pollard and Council Member Tiffany Thomas, who insisted on a city-wide referendum specifically over the bond measure. Mayor Whitmire responded “It’s easy to be against something, but this has been discussed and the public has been well aware. Any delay is going to gut this settlement and any delay, in my opinion, will be irresponsible,” according to his statement in Click2Houston

The fiscal specifics of the judgment bonds are still fine-tuned, with Houston City Attorney Arturo Michel noting that the annual costs will be spread across the next 25 to 30 years. This comprehensive package marks the culmination of marathon negotiations and arrives as a declaration of acknowledgment of the service and dedication of Houston's firefighters.