Report Recommends Privatizing Houston EMS

Under forecast of financial troubles, task force says city should consider change.


 
 

CHRIS MORAN, Houston Chronicle | | Wednesday, February 8, 2012


The city should consider privatizing its ambulance service, reducing survivors' pension benefits, turning over libraries and other operations to the county, taking one firefighter off each truck, requiring employees to pay more for health insurance, imposing a blight tax on neglected foreclosed homes and scrapping cost-of-living allowances to pensioners, according to a list of suggestions sent to Mayor Annise Parker by an advisory group Tuesday.

The city should consider privatizing its ambulance service, reducing survivors' pension benefits, turning over libraries and other operations to the county, taking one firefighter off each truck, requiring employees to pay more for health insurance, imposing a blight tax on neglected foreclosed homes and scrapping cost-of-living allowances to pensioners, according to a list of suggestions sent to Mayor Annise Parker by an advisory group Tuesday.

Union Objections

Union leaders criticized the report before it was even delivered to the mayor, with Houston Organization of Public Employees President Melvin Hughes declaring the report an attack on employees.

"It's not about balancing the budget," Hughes said. "It's about stripping workers of their voice - not only their voice, but their wages."

The six union and pension representatives on the 16-member task force released a dissenting report proposing the city refinance debt, end redevelopment zones and pay some city employees with drainage fee money to ease pressure on the general fund.

The city has refinanced nearly $400 million in debt in the past 15 months and plans to refinance an additional $400 million in April. Many of the redevelopment zones could not be easily eliminated because they are paying for completed construction. And there are strict limits on paying city employees with drainage fee money.

County Requests

The task force's report also contains several suggestions of dubious possibility, such as requiring the county - a separate government over which the city has no jurisdiction - to spend within Houston city limits half of its remaining revenues after hospitals, jails and courts are funded.

Other suggestions include reducing pension benefits for future employees and discontinuing sick days for public workers.




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