In 2011, the city had to reduce its workforce by over 700 employees. Many of these employees were either new hires or tenured employees whose families depended upon their income to sustain a quality of life that we often take for granted. Their health insurance skyrocketed with COBRA, and many employees with existing conditions or planned surgery or in need of treatment had to find alternatives. Some employees had to move, or at worse, some became homeless as a result of that loss of income. I don’t have to go on, but if you lost your main source of income, it is difficult to survive, especially for most of us who don’t have much disposable income. The majority of families live pay-check-to-pay-check.
During that layoff, I had the great fortune of meeting almost everyone during that unfortunate moment in their lives, and let me tell you, it wasn’t a joyous occasion. My role was to provide them with some hope of a better tomorrow. Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy, but by the grace of God, those who entered with tears left with hope…hope that tomorrow would be better than today. Out of all the employee groups, the municipal group was hit the hardest. I mean, who would support cutting our police and fire service? No one would do that, even if there was political and public support for it.
Additionally, departments had to cut services across the board, with some departments seeing a decrease of 40- 50% of their operating budget.
- This translated in closures of parks and libraries, or shortened operating hours, which can be the difference of life and death for some of our young people who leverage these youth-friendly safe places when no one is at home.
- There were modifications to trash and recycling services that in many of our communities is sorely needed on the existing service trend.
- Street and drainage also took a bump in service, along with those essential repairs that ensure families have water to drink and toilets to flush. One can’t appreciate this until you turn your faucet on and it is brown, or you go to flush the toilet and your tub fills up with waste.
- The Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care also had to adjust adoption and drop off hours, which meant that our four-legged canine and feline friends (and to some, lost family members) couldn’t receive the timely care needed to survive. There is also the issue of the unfortunate, dead animal pickup that also saw extreme delays.
- Neighborhood inspections were impacted because of having fewer inspectors. In addition, those pesky properties with excessively high grass couldn’t receive the timely attention needed to ensure the safety of those who live next to or in proximity of them.
- Calls into 311, expecting a timely response, was also a challenge because having a reduced workforce and reduction of available services explains the reasons for the lack of effective response times.
Of course, this list can go on, and these thoughts are my personal expressions and should not be confused with that of the any municipality or interest group. The core of all city services rests in the arms of municipal workers. The safety they have on our communities affects all of us, including those who work for police and fire.
If you think Proposition B is bad, let me tell you that if it passes, it will burn our city down to the ground. The sad part about it is the very same neighbors and friends who are mission-minded on the preservation of people and property, don’t see the adverse impact this measure will have on everyone from Kingwood to Clear Lake and from Spring Branch to Denver Harbor.
Given the economic woes of our day, we all should work to share the load and support each other in need, giving sight and voice to the notion that the issues concerning equity and parity didn’t occur over night, but happened over time. It took years for the salary disparities to widen and it can’t be reconciled without taking into account the time it needs to fiscally reconcile.
What most people don’t know is that our base salaries doesn’t include fringe. Yeah, fringe is 55% times your base salary, or in other words, if you multiply a base salary of $42,000 times 55%, one’s total compensation is $23,100 dollars more for a subtotal compensation of $65,100. That doesn’t include those who are eligible for overtime, which most firefighters receive as a result of their service. The 55% includes the city’s contributions to retirement, health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, worker’s compensation, FICA, life insurance and paid time off (vacation, floating holiday, sick, shift differential, holiday pay, and wellness time).
Most firefighters work four days out of the month and will often have supplemental income through other career opportunities, i.e., realtor, car sales, etc. So, as you are doing your research, be sure that you know some additional details, because much like Rome wasn’t built in a day, this problem of parity, which is a big deal for police, fire, and municipal, shouldn’t and can’t be resolved like this. The polarizing perspectives only promote division and divisiveness, and this, my friends and neighbors, only widens the chasm between the different employees’ groups.
The question I ask is, why would firefighters, many of whom I know personally as friends and high school peers, stand and watch City Hall go up in flames, while their fellow city workers are locked in this burning building that they swore to protect and serve?
Proposition B is not only “Bad” for business, but it will “Burn” so many in its wake. This can’t be a feast or famine situation.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the Houston Forward Times newspaper.