The Parker Administration and Council made news this past week by refusing to allocate additional resources to the Houston Fire Department, which is running over budget due to overtime payments that are partly a result of chronic staffing shortages that multiple administrations now have failed to address adequately. Here are some of the details from the Houston Chronicle story by Mike Morris:
HFD is on pace to exceed its budget by $10.5 million in the fiscal year that ends June 30. Most of that, $8.5 million, is due to overtime paid to firefighters to cover a staffing shortage exacerbated by a union contract that leaves the chief unable to restrict when firefighters take time off.
The department averaged 90 overtime shifts per day during the second half of last year, and has averaged 47 overtime shifts per day for the last 45 days.
To stay within budget over the remaining four months of the fiscal year, Garrison said, HFD must not average more than 23 overtime shifts per day.
On days the department exceeds that number, fire trucks will be idled and supervisory shifts will not be filled, the chief said.
Chief warns that Parker plan will jeopardize public and firefighter safety
KHOU reported Garrison’s warning to Council:
Chief Terry Garrison, clearly unhappy with the prospect of parking some of his vehicles on the sidelines, bluntly told city council the plan will reduce emergency response times and endanger firefighters and the public.
“People that are suffering for EMS calls are going to suffer a little bit longer,” Garrison predicted. “Houses are going to burn, houses and buildings are going to burn a little bit longer.”
Garrison, by the way, is Mayor Parker’s handpicked fire chief. He is not someone we would expect to throw around hyperbole that might embarrass the person who effectively hired him. Rather, we take his statement as an honest civil servant’s strong condemnation of Mayor Parker’s willingness to compromise public and firefighter safety.
Rain Tax councilmember says Chief doesn’t know what he’s talking about
But what would the Fire Chief know about running his department?
Or, to phrase that a bit differently, some city leaders apparently think THEY know more than the chief about running a major metro fire department — turning back to the Chronicle story:
“I find it hard to believe we’re going to compromise public safety. I really don’t believe that’s the case,” Costello said. “It’s simply a matter of, once we respond to a call, we make sure that we have backup from another station. They do it all the time when they have two- or three-alarm calls.”
Of course, Costello, who is thought to be considering a run for mayor, teamed up with the current mayor to mislead voters on the amount of their Rain Tax. Since fiscal matters are allegedly an area of expertise for the councilmember, we are doubly skeptical of his pronouncements when it comes to the operations of a major metro fire department!
The Parker/Costello budget priorities
In a budget the size of Houston’s, this should not be a difficult problem to solve in the short term: The Parker Administration and Council could surely shift funding to HFD so that public and firefighter safety is not jeopardized. Indeed, Fernando Herrera has been tracking some of the Parker Administration’s spending priorities for the last year (see the bottom of this post for his list), and it illustrates quite nicely that the Parker Administration and Council seem to be able to find plenty of money for items of arguably lower priority than public safety (or streets, for that matter, which have become reminiscent of the Lee “Mayor Pothole” Brown era, despite Parker’s campaign promises to try harder). Beyond the short term, boosting HFD’s staffing would be helpful, Councilmember Costello has offered some thoughts on HFD’s medical services, and of course the pension issue continues to loom.
The Texpatriate blog notes that both Councilmember C.O. Bradford (also thought to be considering a mayoral run) and Mayor Pro Tem Ed Gonzalez (a frequent administration ally) opposed the Parker Administration move, and also calls attention to State Sen. John Whitmire’s apparent disdain for Mayor Parker’s “leadership” style.
The only real question is whether the handling of this particular issue is simply the latest example of Mayor Parker’s failures (increasingly, ineptitude) as an executive leader, another salvo in the mayor’s effort to break the firefighter’s union (which has not supported the mayor’s campaigns), or some combination of the two.
An interesting list of things on which the city spends taxpayer money, compiled by Fernando Herrera over the last year or so:
Houston Soccer for Success After School Program — $230,000
Live Home Work Assistance — $850,000
New Computer lab in 5th ward — $1,000,000
Bethel Church renovation park — $4.1 million
Homeless and Housing Fund — $1 million
Martin Luther King shrine (Metro) $750,000
High School Student Interns — $100,000
Deluxe Theater renovation $5.5 million
$3,101,439 of your tax dollars on the fifth and final scheduled installment, for repayment of misappropriated HUD grant funding.
Remember in 2008 the city of Houston agreed to use your tax dollars to repay HUD $15.5 million to settle findings that Houston misspent federal grants.
$2.638 million for land to build a Downtown inspirational center.
$100,000 for a pot hole finding cell phone app
$55,109.50 to purchase additional land for Emancipation Park—not counting the $116,837.00 for Emancipation Park from the previous week.
$540,000.00 City of Houston produced work place violence video “run, hide, fight”.
$100,000.00 (State Housing Trust Funds) to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston for housing assistance for families at-risk of becoming homeless. The President of this “non-Profit” receives $182,739.00.
$7,299.67 to help 5 low income person with rental assistance.
$787,050.00 to a lobbyist for the Texas Legislative Session.
Cathedral Health and Outreach Ministries, in the amount of $51,839.00 for the provision of Homeless Services in connection with the Texas Homeless Housing and Services Program. Executive Director income is $105,345.00.
Contract between the City of Houston and Child Care Council of Greater Houston, providing up to $189,300.00.
$400,000 for a mystery shopper at the airport.
Contract between the City of Houston and Child Care Council of Greater Houston, providing up to $207,818.00.
After School Achievement Program (ASAP) childcare $850,000.00
Multi-Family Residential Project 1500 Prarie — $2 million
Greater Houston Convention and Visitor’s Bureau — $685,000
Houston Soccer for Success After School Program — $230,000.00
Art (through August) — $3,600,000.00
Homeless and Housing Fund — $1,000,000.00
High School Student Interns — $100,000.00
$159,684.96 to the Houston Food Bank to increase public awareness of Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (food stamps). Remember the Houston Food Bank has annual revenues of $148 million!
$167,562,00 for software that records and stores individual homeless person data.
$133,415.00 for strategic homeless planning — affordable housing, education, employment, transportation, child care, mental health, food and shelter.
$50,000 for families at-risk of becoming homeless (Memorial Assistance Ministries).
$435,568.00 for moving and storage of household goods for those people benefiting from the City Housing Community Development Department.
$975,000 for an adult day care center.
$70,000 for childcare for homeless families affected by HIV.
$600,000 to the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston from the Housing Opportunities for People With Aids grant fund for multiple rental assistance programs (previously was given $100,000).
$92,490 to SRO Housing Corporation for the operation of a community residence for low-income and homeless persons living with HIV/AIDS.
$200,000 for after school childcare – After School Achievement Program (previously gave $850,000).
$1,237,507 for Sam Houston Park improvements.
$3,350,160.00 to Dean’s Nutritional Food Service for “free” meals and snacks in an After-School Meal.
$499,572.00 for the renovation of a Community Medical, Dental and Imaging Center located at 5012 North Shepherd. In case you didn’t know, Houstonians previously acquired the building earlier this year with $800,428.00 of your tax dollars. And everyone is eligible for free affordable care act?
$439,572.00 to Child Care Council of Greater Houston (a non-profit) for oversight and delivery of a Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Program. Services include abuse deterrence and treatment, prevention of premature sexual activity, cultural enrichment, recreational activities, and more…
$421,410.00 additional to Child Care Council of Greater Houston for full-day care, before or after school care, full-day summer programs, infant care, 24 hour crisis nursery services, and more…
$750,000.00 for after-school program expenditures for use as match to draw down federal child care funds.
$3,478,518.00 to Child Care Council of Greater Houston to address the needs of families who are homeless and at risk of becoming homeless.
$750,000.00 loan to the Greater East End Management District (an appointed board) to install street furniture, trees, solar pedestrian lighting, and street furniture.
$47,000.00 for an enhanced pedestrian and transit supportive environment along Main, Rice University, and Herman Park.
$5,975,000.00 Loan between the City of Houston and Guld Arms Limited to assist with acquisition, demolition and reconstruction of a 160 unit Affordable Housing Community.
$8,500,000.00 to Houston Heights Towers to provide to assist with renovation of a 223 unit Affordable Housing Community for seniors and the disabled.
$81,500.00 for a Special Assistant to the Mayor for Homeless Initiatives.
$300,000.00 of Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ), and appropriating $6,000,000.00 out of TIRZ, to be used for affordable single family and multi-family housing.
$507,750.51 to Aids Foundation Houston, Inc. in Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS Funds for the administration and operation of two community residences.
$123,335.00 to Search Homeless Services, Inc. to provide meals, bus tokens, showers, blankets, gold cards, medical and dental assistance.
$2,051,035.00 in loans to Mayberry Homes Inc. for affordable single-family homes.
Free wifi for the traditionally underserved areas of town.
Free banking for those traditionally without a bank account. All you need is a Mexican matricula card to apply (really).