By Lynda Jones
Under the proposed Senate Bill 30 the elimination of Milwaukee’s residency requirements for city police officers and firefighters is on the table. Mayor Tom Barrett along with other city officials went to Madison earlier this week to give testimony to the devastating effect that such a change would have on the city.
Mayor Barrett spoke passionately before a Senate Committee and argued his position that the law does not need to change, and that if there were changes that needed to occur it would be his call to make, along with the local government body, the Common Council of the city.
Republican legislators from other counties such as Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa), a lead co-sponsor of the bill, said that the issue was one of personal freedom for city workers. She gave the example of her brother, saying he had to leave the city of Milwaukee Police Department to live outside the city and care for their sick mother.
What she didn’t acknowledge is that there are provisions that allows for such situations as her brother’s. The City Service Commission reviews and approves temporary residency waivers for hardship. In the past 10 years, it has granted all 106 requests it has received.
Mayor Barrett asked the committee a poignant question, he asked them “Why were they not looking at eliminating residency requirements for state workers?” The question was met with silence from the committee. Barrett also said, “This bill is an unprecedented attack on local control. The mayor, the common council, the fire chief and the police chief have not asked for this legislation.”
Beyond the headlines of the ‘Freedom for the right to live where you want’, there is not much left to the argument for this change. Mayor Barrett also pointed out that prior to applying for these jobs, applicants are aware of the criteria, and the residency requirement is part of that criteria.
This writer will go one step further than the mayor did and also include, that if living in Milwaukee is such a punitive measure, then why do you want to earn a living off of the city. Allow those jobs to go to people who have no problem with living in Milwaukee as a condition to the job, you can be sure that the demand for these jobs will not decrease.
Here are some facts of legal precedence of the residency rules. First, the ability of Wisconsin municipalities to determine their local affairs is delineated in the State Constitution and reinforced in State Statute. Secondly, Employee residency rules are a condition of employment and not a matter of statewide concern, and should therefore be subject to local control. And finally, The United States Supreme Court has upheld city residency requirements, ruling in McCarthy v. Philadelphia Civil Service Commission (1976) that they do not violate the due process clause, the equal protection clause, or the right to travel interstate.
In addition to the legal aspect of this rule, the requirement has not been proven to negatively effect the city in seeking qualified job applicants for city positions. Since Jan. 1, 2010, the city received 8.647 applications and 205 positions have been filled in the same time period. The ratio of applicants per hire varies widely among job classifications but averages at 42 applications per hire.
From 2008-2010, the city received 17,563 job applications for general city positions. 86 percent of applicants were already Milwaukee residents.
In most recent recruitments, the city received 5,711 applications for the position of firefighter and 3,569 for the position of police officer. These factors further illustrate that the city is not impeded by this law from attracting applicants to jobs with the residency rule criteria in place.
It should also be noted that these jobs strengthen Milwaukee’s middle class with family supporting incomes, as illustrated by their average annual salaries. $41,361 for general city employees, $65,649 for sworn police employees and $67,554 for sworn fire fighters. 84.5 percent of city employees live in owner-occupied residences, well above the city-wide owner occupancy rate (measured by match between the address on deed and the property address). The average assessed value of a city employee owned residence is $147,634, or 20 percent above the average assessed value in the city.
50.1 percent of city retirees and their families live outside the city. This amounts to $11.4 million in out-migration of gross pension income.
Barrett also stated, “I embrace the presence of Milwaukee police officers and firefighters as neighbors, and I believe that their presence in the community is an asset and they are role models for the community.”
The mayor and other city officials are concerned with outmigration and the devastating effects that it would have on the city. And these concerns are valid, residency requirements have been repealed in several cities. The following are some examples of the effect: Toledo repealed the requirement in 2009 and now, 24 percent now live outside the city. Minneapolis repealed in 1999, 70 percent now live outside the city, Detroit repealed in 1999, 45 percent now live outside the city and Baltimore repealed in 1995, 60 percent now live outside the city.
Several large cities that still have residency requirements for employees include: Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
The bottom line is that the city of Milwaukee will hurt more than benefit from the repeal of residency rules. The benefactors will be those outside of Milwaukee, such as the co-sponsor of this bill a republican senator who does not even live in the city.