RACINE — Racine’s city administrator could commute from Milwaukee and the police chief could drive in from Kenosha if a residency-related proposal in Gov. Scott Walker’s biennial budget goes through.
It’s a short paragraph in the governor’s nearly 600-page executive budget, but the three sentences abolishing residency requirements for municipal employees irk some local leaders.
In Racine, nine department heads, the chief of police, fire chief and city administrator are the only municipal employees required to live within city limits, a requirement designed to ensure department heads stay engaged in the community that they serve, according to Mayor John Dickert.
Although he’s no fan of imposing residency requirements — not necessary if your city is an appealing location to begin with, he said — “there’s something to be said for local control,” Dickert said.
City Administrator Tom Friedel (one of those required to live within city limits) also said Walker’s prohibition on residency requirements represents an unnecessary intrusion.
“I guess the governor just doesn’t believe in local control,” Friedel said.
The proposed change is unlikely to strongly impact Racine, where firefighters, police and most city employees haven’t been required to live within city limits for more than decade, according to Friedel. It’s a different story in Milwaukee, where lifting the residency requirements imposed on law enforcement, firefighters, Milwaukee Public School teachers and other municipal employees could have a big impact.
In an email to The Journal Times, Fire Chief Steve Hansen noted, “Residency is a very complicated issue about control. Control over employees — where they live, where they spend their off time, where they spend their earnings and how they perceive the community where they work.”
Although the requirement ostensibly exists to keep dollars spent and property taxes paid within the community, Hansen said it begs the bigger question: “If municipal employees do not want to live where they work ... why do they not want to live where they work? What can be done to make the municipality a more attractive place to live?”
Even if the residency requirement gets lifted, Hansen said he’ll remain a Racine resident until he retires.