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Proposition B overlooks differences between fire and police departments

As Nov. 6 draws closer, Proposition B has become a controversial ballot initiative. Though it will raise salaries of firefighters in Houston, it could result in repercussions for the city’s other public works. | Corbin Ayres/ The Cougar

Houstonians will have the opportunity cast their vote on Proposition B, also known as Pay Parity, on Nov. 6. The proposition would link the salary of firefighters and the police force in the charter instead of setting wages based on similar-sized fire departments in Texas.

The ballot initiative would grant equal pay to the Houston Fire Department and the Houston Police Department in similar ranks, a 25 percent increase for the fire department that would cost the city $98 million per year for three years.

There must be a better solution that could give firefighters a good living wage without changing the city charter and tying their salary to the police force.

The signs around the city paint a misleading picture, simplifying the argument around Proposition B to “for firefighters” versus “against firefighters.” Instead, the focus needs to be on what’s actually on the ballot and the impact of the cost on the city’s budget, which could include layoffs in other city departments.

At first glance, the Houston Police Department and the Houston Fire Department have a similar duty to the public: risking their lives for our safety. But it would be a disservice to HFD and HPD to say the job specifications are the exact same.

The way Proposition B is written implies that HPD and HFD share enough similarities as a public service to be granted pay parity, but this is not the case in the structure, rank and access to equipment between the two departments.

The fire department has access to equipment that is provided by the city, while policemen have to buy their own ammunition and guns through an allowance that is included in their paycheck.

This disparity in sources of equipment displays the different structure of HFD and HPD due to the differences in job specification. If pay parity equalizes both departments, the way the departments are run in other areas like equipment and scheduling shifts would have to change.

The fight for Proposition B centering around pay equality pushes other pressing matters off the table. We should focus on finding a solution that gives firefighters a living wage and addresses their needs specifically. HFD needs funding for more than higher wages.

A proposition that focuses on modernizing fire stations would be more efficient.

Although there is a disparity in the salaries within HFD and HPD, Proposition B does not properly address the different needs of each department. Hastily fixing it by equalizing pay would brush aside the unique needs of both departments and would put other essential city services at risk due to increased strain on the budget.

While it is essential in a fair society to pay those who risk their lives for our safety a comparable amount, the way the city proposes to find the money for a 25 percent pay increase will cripple other Public Works departments. A solution that would lead to more problems in layoffs and subpar service is not a good solution at all.

Mayor Sylvester Turner has said that if Proposition B passes, the salary hike could mean laying off police officers, firefighters and municipal employees. This could include cuts in public services and works like community centers, libraries, park maintenance and garbage service, and it could slow down municipal court cases.

Proposition B requires choosing between two essential services and the livelihoods of people who work to keep our city safe and functioning smoothly. It is a decision that needs to be taken seriously, and the language on the ballot does not take it into account.

There is no such thing as “a free lunch” for anyone.

The $98 million each year will have to come from somewhere. The best thing for the city of Houston would be to go back to the drawing board and draft legislation that raises firefighters’ wages without giving public works the guillotine.

Opinion columnist Janet Miranda is a marketing junior and can be reached at [email protected].

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