ST. LOUIS — City officials may tie an offer of extra pay for city government employees living inside St. Louis to the elimination of a requirement that most do so.
The idea of putting the two ideas together was discussed Wednesday at an aldermanic committee hearing on eliminating the residency rule.
“Instead of framing this negatively, maybe there’s a way we can incent people, maybe give them a special kind of incentive on an annual basis for living in the city,” said Personnel Director Richard Frank.
Frank said the figure might be $500 a year or so. He compared it to the $500 extra pay that city firefighters and police officers currently can get for taking a physical exam.
That amount would offset the 1% city earnings tax for an employee making $50,000 a year.
Frank said the idea came from Alderman Carol Howard, the sponsor of the measure to get rid of the residency rule. She said she hopes to amend her bill to refer to incentive pay in some way “if we can find the funding.”
Allowing the city to do that without setting the amount in the bill might be the right approach, she said. She said she hopes to meet with the city budget director on the matter.
Howard, D-14th Ward, said putting incentive pay in the measure could reassure some voters who worry that repealing the residency rule would lead to large numbers of employees moving to the suburbs. Howard’s proposal is a city charter amendment requiring voter approval.
“I think some people have this idea that it’s going to be a mass exodus,” she said.
Frank said Mayor Lyda Krewson also had brought the incentive pay idea for resident employees to his attention. Krewson’s spokesman, Koran Addo, confirmed later that the mayor is considering it and whether the city could afford it.
“The mayor is very open to looking at what that might look like,” Addo said.
Krewson said last week that she supports repealing the residency rule amid increasing difficulty in recruiting and retaining police officers and some other types of workers.
At the hearing, Police Chief John Hayden, Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards, Parks Director Greg Hayes, Streets Director Jamie Wilson and Building Commissioner Frank Oswald all joined Frank in supporting removal of the requirement.
While police staff shortages have gotten widespread news media attention, they said some other agencies also are having problems.
Frank said, for example, that the Fire Department has 20 paramedic vacancies even though it offers pay just slightly lower than others in the region.
Partly because of the residency rule, Frank said, St. Louis paramedics typically leave for jobs elsewhere in the metro area after about 18 months. “We offered people a 10 percent (pay) increase if they will stay for three years and it has not impacted anything,” he said.
Oswald said it’s very difficult for civil service officials to provide him a list of qualified people for certain positions. Hayes said at one point last year, 10 of 27 tree-trimming jobs were vacant.
Frank added that because of a lack of applicants, the city has reduced the minimum age to 16 for people hired for the summer to cut weeds.
Frank said he also has concerns about having varying sets of residency rules for different types of employees. Firefighters and police with seven years’ service are currently allowed to live outside the city but other employees aren’t.
No one spoke at the hearing against the bill, which was held by the Public Employees Committee chaired by Howard.
But some aldermen and residents who opposed such measures in the past say having officers live in the city makes them more of a part of the community. They also warned that the departure of more city residents would hurt the tax base. Howard says she hopes to hold another hearing one night next week.
While St. Louis leaders were discussing lifting the city residency requirement, one St. Louis County Council member on Wednesday proposed adding one in the county. Councilman Tim Fitch said he believes the county should forbid its new employees from living in the city of St. Louis, saying it’s only fair because the city forces county residents interested in working for the city to move there.
“They’re wrong of course for having a residency requirement at all, but if they’re going to force St. Louis County residents who want to work for the city to live there, then St. Louis County should consider the same thing,” Fitch said. “Their arguments as to why it’s good for the city are the same arguments I would have as to why it’s good for the county.”
Fitch said he asked the county counselor to begin drafting an ordinance that the county council could consider that would require St. Louis city residents who get hired for St. Louis County government jobs to move to the county within six months of their hire.
“I have a problem with the city telling county residents that they have to live in the city,” Fitch said.
Christine Byers of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.