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St. Louis City Hall

St. Louis City Hall as seen on May 28, 2013. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — A day after Police Chief John Hayden reiterated his call for repealing the police residency rule to help recruit officers, an aldermanic committee on Thursday endorsed putting the change before city voters at the November 2020 election.

The bill, a proposed city charter amendment, also would get rid of the residency requirement for all other civil service employees.

The bill, which now goes to the full Board of Aldermen, was endorsed 6-0 by the board’s Public Employees Committee.

“Part of the reason for doing this is to widen our net” to attract applicants for vacancies mounting across much of city government, said the sponsor, Alderman Carol Howard, D-14th Ward.

Howard, however, decided against adding to the measure an offer of extra pay for city workers who continue to live inside the city. That idea was discussed by the committee last month.

She said after talking with officials with city employee unions, she concluded that it would be better to leave that to contract negotiations.

Hayden, in a video regarding violent crime posted Wednesday on Facebook by the police department, said ending the residency requirement was essential to his efforts to get more officers. Hayden said the department has 147 fewer officers than the 1,328 it is authorized to employ.

A police union official responded by saying the city also needs to offer competitive wages.

No one on the committee voted against the repeal bill but Alderman Brandon Bosley, D-3rd Ward, said he had concerns about it. He said he feared that it could add to the city’s ongoing population decline and spur a big cut in sales tax revenue.

“Nine times out of 10, if you live here, you’re going to spend your paycheck here,” Bosley said. “The city (government) is one of the largest employers in the city.”

City Personnel Director Rick Frank said there had been an “initial exodus” of police and firefighters moving to the suburbs after those two employee groups won the authority to do so in 2005 and 2010, respectively, once they reached seven years’ city service.

But Frank said the number of police and firefighters living inside and outside the city is now “pretty stable.“ As of last month, about 29% of police employees and about 40% of firefighters lived outside the city.

The firefighters’ exception is set to expire in 2022. A state law allows them to move out as long as the city schools weren’t fully accredited or for five years after the district regained accreditation, which it did in 2017.

Hayden has said the police seven-year rule applies only to officers hired before the city regained control of the department in 2013. Mayor Lyda Krewson and the police union disagree.

Howard’s bill could come up for floor debate as soon as next week but she said she’s not sure yet when she will bring it up.

“I’ll take the temperature and see what votes I have,“ she said. If she doesn’t have enough support yet, she said she’ll wait until September when the board returns from its upcoming summer break.

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Mark Schlinkmann is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.