Missoula mayor proposes alternate residency rule for city workers

2013-02-25T05:45:00Z 2013-03-11T22:09:57Z Missoula mayor proposes alternate residency rule for city workers missoulian.com

The proposal that top city officials be required to live inside the city limits is up for a public hearing Monday night, and Missoula Mayor John Engen said he plans to present his own version of the ordinance.

“The short version is anyone employed by the city of Missoula up until the time the ordinance becomes effective is exempt from the ordinance. Any employee hired thereafter will be subject to the ordinance,” Engen said of those hired as department heads or supervisors.

The city of Missoula doesn’t require its municipal employees to live inside the city limits, and earlier this month, City Councilwoman Cynthia Wolken proposed a residency requirement for those in the upper echelon of city government – with exemptions for current top officers.

Her thinking: City employees should pay city taxes to contribute to their own salaries, live among the city’s residents, and reside under municipal ordinances.

Several council members have shown the measure strong support, but employees of the Missoula Police Department and Fire Department have fought it. At an earlier meeting, Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir said 60 percent of his command staff and 75 percent of middle management live in the county; Muir himself chose to move outside the city “to improve my quality of life.”

Last week, Wolken said she hadn’t seen Engen’s alternate proposal, but they had talked about it and she was comfortable with the idea.

However, she doesn’t want an ordinance that’s too watered down.

“I don’t want it to be so broad that it means we won’t have department heads that live in the city for 30 years or something like that,” Wolken said.

***

According to the city communications director, the city employs 466 full-time and part-time staff members and another 79 who work intermittently, such as lifeguards. The total who live outside the city limits are 160, including two who live in the city part of the year and outside the city part of the year.

Wolken said the ordinance isn’t targeting any particular individuals.

Rather, it’s a blanket policy similar to ones other cities have, and other cities haven’t had trouble attracting talented workers with the requirement in place, she said.

When city employees live outside the city limits, taxpayers at times foot part of the bill. A few years ago, the city cracked down on employees taking municipal vehicles home, but some people still do, with and without permission, confirmed Jack Stucky, vehicle maintenance superintendent.

“There’s a lot of good reasons for being out of town too, but there’s some people that, like anything, try to slip in,” Stucky said.

Some city-fleet cars go to Frenchtown or Stevensville. He doesn’t like to see cars go outside the city limits because of the fuel and maintenance costs, which can shorten the lifespan of a car from 10 years to five years.

“When they travel that far, the service intervals are shorter,” Stucky said. “In other words, we’ve got to change the oil, we’ve got to work on them more often. And the life expectancy of the vehicle is shorter.”

Detectives who are on call with the police department and workers on call with the wastewater treatment plant take home vehicles with permission, Stucky said. About once a month, he’ll get a call from someone who believes they’ve seen a car leave the city limits without permission.

Stucky agrees city employees should have a vested interest in the city of Missoula. Now he lives in the county, but he lived inside the city for 18 years and still owns two properties in Missoula.

“I pay more taxes than most folks do – and don’t live in Missoula,” Stucky said. “I always try to look out for the best interests of the taxpayers of Missoula, so I think there should be a clause for those who own other property.”

***

At an earlier council meeting, a police detective said she feared Wolken’s proposal would hurt female police officers’ ability to rise in the ranks. She said the only female officer in line for the chief’s job lives in the county.

Wolken said she was concerned when she heard the detective’s remarks and reached out to learn more. But she wants to drill down to the root problem to find out why there’s a gender imbalance among top police officers, especially when an estimated 13 percent of the force is female – a relatively high number in Montana, she said.

“My concern is what are the barriers for women to go to the next level of supervisor? There’s only one (female) out of 30. To me, that’s the bigger issue,” Wolken said.

Mayor Engen’s draft proposal exempts all current employees from the requirement, and Engen believes that’s only fair.

“I think folks were hired, and they had some expectations. This wasn’t one of them,” Engen said of the residency requirement.

His version of the ordinance has the following exemption: “Any individual employed by the city of Missoula on the effective date of this ordinance, including department heads and supervisory managers, is not subject to this ordinance and is eligible for promotion without city residency requirements.

“Any individual employed by the city of Missoula that resides within the city limits on the effective date of this ordinance, including department heads and supervisory managers, may move outside the city limits but may only move within Missoula County.”

Engen said he wants employees to feel like the city is sticking with its terms of agreement, but at the same time, he thinks it’s “perfectly fair” to ask people in key positions to live in the city.

He said the new development services officer will be expected to live inside city limits.

One argument against requiring more employees to live in the city limits is housing costs more in the city. However, even a single rookie police officer earns $49,092, more than the median household income in Missoula.

So far, the proposal hasn’t veered toward requiring more people with higher salaries to live in the city limits, and the mayor isn’t prepared to discuss that option.

“It’s not on the table today, and I think this is not a question without some ambiguity,” Engen said.

City Councilman Dick Haines likes the mayor’s idea to grandfather in current employees. Otherwise, people’s lifestyles are at stake.

“Maybe they’ve got a couple horses and they’ve got a couple acres and their kids like it,” Haines said. “I don’t think it’s fair to tell them you have to work in the city.”

The public hearing is set for 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25, in Council Chambers, 140 W. Pine St.

Reach Keila Szpaller at @keilaszpaller, at keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or at (406) 523-5262.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. Cameo01
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    Cameo01 - February 25, 2013 10:25 am
    Requiring city employees to live in the city for tax purposes is the dumbest thing the council could come up with. City policies should be created based on needs, not just because some council person doesn't think someone else is paying as much as they should.

    Working for the city isn't a privilege, it's a job. Selection for employment should be based on skills and qualifications to perform the particular job, not where you live. The only reason for requiring certain employees to live near their office is an immediate response need. This might include law enforcement, public works, fire, etc. the proximity of these people to their offices should be determined by response time, not taxes.

    The only employees that should have take-home vehicles are those who's vehicles might be considered mobile offices. This might include investigators that are called out to crime scenes, and perhaps some high ranking personnel that also respond to crime scenes, but wouldn't include regular shift working patrolmen.

    This appears to be another case of an imagined need resulting in a new policy.
  2. Robert Johnson
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    Robert Johnson - February 25, 2013 9:22 am
    Please vote against the proposed residency rule for city workers because it is an invasion of personal privacy, an undue burden on city workers, and it unfair to grandfather in existing city employees who live outside of city limits. City employment is just working for the city; it’s a job. While there are some interesting arguments for the residency rule, they do not justify or merit the invasion of people’s private lives to the extent that the city can dictate where a city employee can live, what kind of a lifestyle they can life (such as preventing them having horses, roosters, or the tranquility or a rural domicile). Many folks either cannot afford to live in-town, or choose not to for many valid reasons. Some live on family land in the county they do not want to sell, some grow their own food in rural gardens that would not fit or be as productive on city lots. Some have livestock, a Montana heritage, that are not allowed within city limits. Some have medical issues and need a quiet and solitude that cannot be found in the city. Few jobs invade a person’s private life as the proposed residency rule does. It’s unjust, unfair, and unnecessary. City employment is just a job, it’s not a lifestyle, and the city has no right to intrude upon an employee’s private live in this way. It is also completely unreasonable to allow existing city employees to be grandfathered in if they live outside of city limits. The burden of this proposal is placed on all future city employees. It’s discrimination, and while Wolken said the proposal doesn’t target any particular individual, she’s dead wrong. The grandfather in of existing city workers would mean that the proposal is specifically targeting all new employees, and only new employees. Further, the grandfather clause completely invalidates the entire reasoning behind the proposal; that [all]City employees should pay city taxes to contribute to their own salaries, live among the city’s residents, and reside under municipal ordinances. It’s time to stop the invasion of privacy and personal choice. It’s time to stop passing laws that discriminate and do not apply equally to everyone equally. Please either vote down the proposed residency rule.
  3. Bandit218
    Report Abuse
    Bandit218 - February 25, 2013 8:53 am
    This city is ridiculous. Maybe we should ask them to take up a bill that would dock pay when they don't show up. I mean fair is fair, right? Maybe take away the monthly amost $600 towards healthcare plan?
  4. Buzz Feedback
    Report Abuse
    Buzz Feedback - February 25, 2013 8:34 am
    This is almost as dumb as lighting the bridges. Almost.
  5. John P Weber
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    John P Weber - February 25, 2013 8:31 am
    I personally feel all city employees should be required to live in the city. Not just the top dogs. And this should also apply to our local elected officials, these people make extremely good money compared to the rest of us who live in the city and yet we can afford to live here and the well paid top dogs cant? As far as city employee's taking city cars home outside of the city, if they do so without permission they should get one warning, get caught a second time, your fired with loos of ALL benefits accured and also face criminal charges for theft. There is no reason logical reason why the police chief anffire chief and other dept heads cant afford to live i nthe city. And if they really cared about the quality of life in the city they never would have moved out to the countryside. But by iving outside the city limits these top people show they dont give a rats rear about the city which employes them.
  6. Roger
    Report Abuse
    Roger - February 25, 2013 7:39 am
    I don't get it - why are employees who break the rule and use city vehicles for their private use not fired, or at least given notice that such rule-breaking will not be tolerated? I can understand making the proposed rule that city employees actually live in the city being to apply only to new hires, but the proposed rule should be passed.
  7. The_Boneshackler
    Report Abuse
    The_Boneshackler - February 25, 2013 7:11 am
    Property taxes in 2008 reflect the peak levels reached during Wall Street's Great Looting. They will go even lower once millions of jobs are destroyed and foreclosures rise as Austerity is implemented.
  8. BobbyLee
    Report Abuse
    BobbyLee - February 25, 2013 12:31 am
    - Stucky agrees city employees should have a vested interest in the city of Missoula. Now he lives in the county, but he lived inside the city for 18 years and still owns two properties in Missoula. “I pay more taxes than most folks do – and don’t live in Missoula,” Stucky said. “I always try to look out for the best interests of the taxpayers of Missoula, so I think there should be a clause for those who own other property.”

    That's why he's seen his property taxes go down since 2008 on his two properties in Florence (no record of properties in Missoula, of course, not under his name anyway - conveniently). This seems to be perfectly normal for city workers, Your taxes go up, theirs go down. and still they say "I pay more taxes than most folks do." Really? You pay or your renters pay?

    Here's Stucky's County tax record:

    $3,221.65 - 2008
    $2,958.04 - 2012

    $2,444.60 - 2008
    $1,867.28 - 2012

    So why isn't this a story, ever? Like I said; yours go up, theirs go down.
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