The state erased residency requirements for non-emergency public employees this summer, so Mayor Paul Soglin now wants to explore incentives for city workers to live in Madison.
Soglin has offered a resolution that directs city Human Resources Director Brad Wirtz to report to the City Council by Dec. 3 on incentives to encourage city employees to establish or maintain city residency.
Having employees live in the city is important because it puts workers close to the scene in times of emergency, ensures more wages paid by the city are spent in Madison, and employees “are the backbone of any city and it’s great to have them and their children living in the city,” the mayor said.
Soglin said other communities have financial incentives and housing allowances but that the requested study will provide detailed information on options .
“I think there’s interest in the idea,” said City Council President Chris Schmidt. “It has appeal because we’re not forcing people to do it. But there are a bunch of questions to look at.”
The council is set to discuss the resolution Nov. 19.
At one time, all city employees had a residency requirement.
But that changed in the early 1980s when the city took over bus service from a private entity and the residency requirement wasn’t imposed on the drivers union, the Teamsters. Police and firefighter unions had “me too” language that secured the same freedom and other unions followed.
By 1999, 19 percent of the city’s 2,850 permanent employees lived outside the city, Human Resources Department data says. Five years later, 30 percent of 2,971 employees lived outside the city, and by 2009, 40 percent of 3,182 were outside the city limits.
Professionals and supervisors sought to end the requirement, but for them, it would have taken council approval. The council refused such a request in 2010.
In 2011, the latest data available, 40 percent of 3,248 permanent employees lived outside the city, including roughly 60 percent of police and firefighter union members.
Until this summer, department heads had to live in the city and non-represented staff in Dane County. Non-represented personnel who lived outside the city but in the county got 1 percent less in longevity pay. But on June 30, Gov. Scott Walker signed a state budget that lets public employees live anywhere they want, except for public safety workers, who must live within 15 miles of the local government they serve.
Curt Witynski, assistant director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, which opposed the state change, said at least 120 municipalities had some sort of residency requirement and that some are also interested in creating incentives for employees to live in municipal limits.