After taking a few hours off -- presumably to focus on their NCAA tournament brackets -- our elected leaders, electronic media and advertising-supported pundits have resumed their partisan pugilism.
With the budget apparently repaired, they've begun talking about whether or not it's cool for Milwaukee to require its police and firemen to live within the city limits.
The residency requirement -- kind of like collective bargaining for public employees -- has existed for years before becoming a major problem in the last few months.
Apparently, some of the same folks who don't want teachers and custodians and dispatchers to have a say in their working conditions are now working to make sure that cops and firefighters can live wherever they like (as long as it's within a specified five-county area).
Mayor Tom Barrett and a bunch of aldermen are afraid that lifting the residency requirement for 3,000 police officers and firefighters will prompt a bunch of them to flee the city, lowering the tax base and leading to further reduction in services and safety -- not to mention longer response times in emergencies. They point to cities like Detroit and Camden, N.J., as places harmed by similar decisions.
The opposition says that these heroes should be able to pay property taxes on the Wauwatosa side of 60th Street or -- gasp -- in Brown Deer, Hartland or Menomonee Falls.
If I've learned anything from watching the political tennis match play out over the past few weeks, it's this: money talks.
That leads me to humbly suggest a solution to this thorny and multifaceted issue:
1. Let the cops and firefighters (and eventually the teachers) live wherever they choose.
2. If they choose to live in the City of Milwaukee, give them a little something extra in their paycheck or portfolio. It wouldn't have to be much. It could be $50 per paycheck; maybe $100. Or, it could be a slight reduction in their annual property tax bill. It could even be as simple as an extra day off every quarter.
Problem solved. You're welcome.
I know that in West Allis they do something close to what you are proposing - at least for the public library staff (that is my only experience with city employees of West Allis). If you live in the city, you enjoy a higher wage. It's not a crazy difference, but one that may sway people to stay or move to the city for a job. I think it's a good solution - it gives workers a choice and the city hopes to draw/retain quality employees.
What a crock this arguement for residency is. The only workers that should have to live in the city are Police and Firefighters in case there is an emergency of some sort. By saying this to teachers, you're only limiting the pool of talented people that you can hire and giving a good teacher ANOTHER reason NOT to work for MPS. This business about reducing the tax base is a flat out lie, and here is why: they say 3,000 will leave the county. The problem is, though, that each of these 3,000 will have to sell their house (which is what they pay most of the taxes on in the first place). And who is going to buy the house?? Another person that will have to pay the taxes! And if they don't sell the house?? They STILL have to pay the taxes, in addition to paying TWO mortgages.
Sure, I understand that new hires that live outside the city could come in and take those jobs, but seriously that won't happen overnight.
The exodus from Milwaukee would be short lived if they were to lift the requirement. In theory, lifting the requirement would allow the teaching talent to stay in Milwaukee, which in turn would eventually lead to better Milwaukee Schools, and more people wanting to live in the city, as apart from having new teachers who simply stick around long enough to get a job outside the city. I find living restrictions for non-essential personnel to be somewhat discriminatory. Here is my solution, MPS teachers can live wherever they want, however, unplanned absences (weather especially) that are directly related to how far they live from the school should be dealt with more severely. There should be incentive to living closer to your job. MPD and MFD workers should be able to live within the county limits. That way that can move out of the city, but are still close enough to respond to emergency situations. The tax revenue is redundant, as kristi pointed out, as very few public employees can afford to carry two mortgages, and even then, they still pay property taxes, therefore there is no tax revenue lost. The law was presented in the 1930's when infrastructure and transportation were drastically different than they are today, the residency requirement needs to be re-addressed, but it has to be at the local level, the state should have no say in it.
If the police and firefighters want to end the residency requirement, make them bargain for it. By passing a law we would be giving it to them for free, when in reality, the unions should make some serious concessions that could make up for the property tax money Milwaukee will lose when people move. If they aren't willing to make a deal, then the residency rules should continue and the governor should stay out of Milwaukee's business.
Also, the paranoid side of me thinks that Milwaukee votes for Democrats. I wonder if he's hoping a lot of them (teachers) will move out of the city, which would dilute the democratic base & Republicans would actually win in Milwaukee too. I can't imagine that Scott Walker or the Fitzgerald brothers have any interest in protecting the rights of teachers or city workers. Why would they start now?
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