Houston city council could vote on garbage fee next week
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday said he would put a proposed garbage fee on next week’s city council agenda, but will not vote for it.
Turner agreed to put the idea promoted by Councilman Dwight Boykins as a way to to offset the cost of firefighter raises mandated by Proposition B to a council vote, even as he called it “regressive” and said it would hurt low-income Houstonians.
“I will put it on the council agenda next week to let council members have their say, but I will not vote to impose this fee on the people of Houston,” he said on Twitter.
Under Houston’s strong-mayor format, Turner decides what goes on the council agenda.
Boykins first pitched the idea of a monthly garbage fee of $25 to $40 to help cover the cost of the firefighter raises in December. At the time, he estimated the fee could raise as much as $172 million a year that would go into a special revenue fund for Houston’s Solid Waste Management, thereby freeing up other monies to pay for the firefighter raises.
The raises, which the Turner administration has estimated will cost about $100 million a year, are required under the Prop B charter amendment approved by voters last November. The pay-parity measure requires the city to pay firefighters the same as police officers of equal rank and experience.
Boykins’ original proposal largely fell flat among his council colleagues, some of whom said the fees were far too high. Boykins since has floated lower rates, and said Wednesday that he would call for fees between $19 and $27 a month when council votes.
In a statement Wednesday, Boykins said he was the “only member of City Council to put forth a proposal that creates a steady revenue stream while preventing massive and destructive layoffs.”
“My proposal is an alternative that secures public safety while saving the jobs of up to 500 firefighters, 200 police officers and up to 300 city employees,” Boykins said. “It’s an opportunity for city leaders to lead, and I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting this measure.
Turner earlier this week announced his administration has begun the process of implementing the raises, a plan that includes the layoff of about 400 firefighters and another 100 municipal employees. No police are included in the layoffs.
Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, said the union supports Boykins’ idea. He said Turner has yet to put forth a solution that does not “put public safety and citizens at risk.”
The mayor’s agreement to put the garbage fee proposal to a council vote came in the second week of Boykins delaying dozens of items on the council agenda in protest of what he says is unfair treatment of Houston Fire Department cadets.
The cadets graduated from training earlier this year, but Turner has refused to swear them in, saying it would be wrong to promote them during a citywide hiring freeze he implemented last fallwhen it became clear Prop B could pass. He did, however, swear in more than 60 Houston Police Department cadets this month.
Two weeks ago, Boykins blocked 33 of 39 agenda items.
He similarly delayed most of the Council’s agenda on Wednesday, drawing criticism from Turner and other council members.
Mayor Pro-Tem Ellen Cohen said Boykins’ behavior “makes a mockery” of the council, adding the tactic is intended to give members time to further study proposals and not to “hold hostage” city business.
“There are no political games here on the part of this administration,” Turner said before accusing Boykins of playing his own “political games.”
Other council members said they supported Boykins use of the parliamentary maneuver and voted against several attempts to override his tags.
Even those votes were not without argument, however. At one point, Boykins tried to allow a handful of agenda items to go to vote, prompting backlash from other council members who said tags need to be used consistently, or not at all.
“You’re either all-in or all-out,” Council member Brenda Stardig said after one such vote.
Boykins later defended his actions, citing the “frustrations” expressed to him when he’s met with firefighters.
“Tagging the agenda is not something I’m proud of doing,” he said. “I’m just doing it because I think it’s the right thing to do. … I don’t look forward to doing this every time.”