By Raina J. Johnson
Special to the Milwaukee Times
On April 8, 2013, Mayor Tom Barrett along with the Milwaukee Brotherhood of Firefighters and several elected officials from city government, including the majority of the Common Council members, gathered at city hall to hold a press conference voicing their concerns over Governor Walker’s proposal to lift residency requirements statewide for some city workers.
“We are all here today for the same purpose and that is to ask the state legislature – specifically the Joint Finance Committee – to remove from the budget that has been presented to them by Governor Walker, a provision that has no reason to be in the budget,” Mayor Barrett said to the audience. “The provision that we are referring to is of course is the provision that prohibits local governments from instituting residency requirements. The city of Milwaukee has had a requirement since 1938 that employees of the city, reside in the city of Milwaukee,” he added.
The Joint Finance Committee held an open, public forum at Greendale High School last week and the residency requirement was a hot topic.
Members of the Brotherhood of Firefighters followed Mayor Barrett and agreed with his statement.
“Residency is a condition of employment and an issue of local control – not a budgetary item and to leave it in the budget would be an injustice to the city, we strive to one day see a workforce that mirrors the residents we serve,” Everett Cocroft said.
Common Council President Hines said that the residency requirement has not been harmful or detrimental to the city. “It’s simply a condition of employment; we find it very offensive that the state would put this in the budget.” He went on to discuss that lifting the requirement would have an economic impact on the city, but Alderman Michael Murphy, who is also the chair of the finance and personnel committees, spoke in much more detail about the economic impact to Milwaukee.
“Let’s be very clear; the Governor’s intended goal is creating 250,000 jobs to help this state grow. This policy doesn’t create one single job; in fact it does the adverse. City of Milwaukee, unfortunately due to the foreclosure crisis, has lost $5-billion in value over the last four years, that’s 70 percent of our assessed value of our city. This foreclosure crisis has crippled us in many ways, enacting this legislation when the city is down – kicking us when we’re down –is simply unfair and unjust,” Alderman Murphy said.
This argument isn’t just about the numbers and the financial burden that the city of Milwaukee will carry. Alderman Murphy stressed the “social good of having for example a police officer or fire fighter living in your neighborhood, everyone of us in this city knows the importance of once in a while knowing the fire fighter or police officer down the block you can rely on. They are there for us, and they have been there for us and that’s an important economic impact but also the quality of life impact.”
Some also say that there hasn’t been a good honest debate about this issue and that it’s really an issue of public safety as well and a political maneuver that Governor Walker is using by sneaking this into the state budget. At the news conference city leaders encouraged residents to call their representatives and other city leaders regarding this topic.