The Dallas City Council voted Tuesday to pay nearly $62 million to settle four of six lawsuits filed by police and firefighters over back pay they say they're owed.
The settlement, which would be paid through bond money, comes less than a month before the four lawsuits were set to go to trial in Collin County. A judge would still need to approve the settlement agreement and the details of the payouts for hundreds of first responders affected by the lawsuits, which were filed in 1990s.
Two class-action lawsuits are still pending in neighboring Rockwall County and could still cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars in back pay, interest and legal fees.
In 1979, Dallas voters approved a pay raise for police and firefighters including step increases for different ranks within the departments. Over the years that followed, those step increases diminished so that there was not a set percentage of pay increase that happened when an officer was promoted.
The city has argued that the ambiguous language in the referendum meant the increases were a one-time readjustment. But first responders have said the increases and the steps were meant to be maintained forever.
The lawsuits have lasted through several City Hall administrations and attempts to settle them. Lobbyists for the city had tried to insert language to protect Dallas from the lawsuits in legislation that negotiated changes to the city's failing police and fire pension fund to save it from insolvency. That language was ultimately rejected.
Lawyers for both sides had said that the pay, interest and legal fees from a court award could put the city in financial straits. If the city had filed for bankruptcy, lawyers for the first responders worried it might mean their clients would get no payout or wait even longer to see the money.
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Mayor Mike Rawlings said Tuesday that Dallas did nothing wrong and they're doing what the referendum said the city would do. Both sides have maintained they would win the lawsuit if it went to trial.