Mayor ponders residency rule Schmoke sees need to hold onto city's shrinking tax base.

January 28, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is considering imposing a residency requirement for city employment, saying it will help Baltimore hold on to its shrinking pool of middle-class taxpayers.

Mr. Schmoke said he would decide whether to move ahead with the requirement after the current session of the General Assembly ends in April.

"It is strictly a question of money," Mr. Schmoke said, adding: are losing a lot of money because we have many people who live in the surrounding counties but work in the city."

The city now gives hiring and promotional preference to city residents although it does not require its employees to live in Baltimore. But members of the mayor's Cabinet must move into the city within 120 days of being hired.

Mr. Schmoke said that the city's darkening fiscal picture may force him to impose the requirement. Mr. Schmoke has yet to work out the details of his plan, but he said current employees would be exempted from the requirement.

Currently, 69 percent of Baltimore's municipal work force lives in the city, according to city Civil Service Commission statistics. But the number of city residents tends to decrease at the higher end of the salary scale, Mr. Schmoke said.

For instance, 59 percent of the school system's administrators are city residents.

Meanwhile, 95 percent of the lower salaried school system workers, including custodians and cafeteria workers, live in Baltimore. Also, many of the city's public safety workers live outside of Baltimore.

Only 36 percent of the sworn police force -- whose officers make an average of $31,700 a year -- live in Baltimore. Overall, 41 percent of the city's police employees live in Baltimore.

Meanwhile, 51 percent of the sworn firefighters are city residents. A late 1970s court ruling requires city firefighters to be city residents as a condition of employment.

But they are free to live elsewhere once they are on the force, said Jesse Hoskins, city personnel director.

Other cities impose residency requirements, many with the same ideas articulated by Mr. Schmoke: to hold on to middle-class taxpayers and to ensure that workers have greater stakes in their jobs.

"If you are a city sanitation worker and you live here, you'll be as concerned as anyone if the garbage isn't picked up," Mr. Hoskins said.

But some cities have found that residency requirements make it difficult to fill some jobs. The District of Columbia abandoned its residency requirement for police recruits and other public safety employees for that reason.

Also, residency requirements have been enforced inconsistently in some cities. In Boston, for example, 11,800 of the city's 18,600 employees are exempt from that city's residency rules.

In 1991, Baltimore granted waivers to its residency preference to 487 non-resident workers, ostensibly because their jobs could not be filled by city residents.

Despite those problems, Mr. Schmoke said he would move forward with his plan if the legislative session brings little fiscal relief to the city. And as it now stands, the city faces an uphill struggle in Annapolis.

Nearly 200,000 people commute into Baltimore to work each day, taking with them when they return to the suburbs an estimated $112.5 million a year in income tax revenue, according to a Greater Baltimore Committee report. In Maryland, local income tax revenue goes to a worker's home county, not the jurisdiction where it is earned.

Mr. Schmoke and other city officials said there is no reason for city employees to take part in the tax exodus. "If we cannot get some return on jobs in the city through the piggyback tax, we've got to put our money where our mouth is," said City Council President Mary Pat Clarke.

Although the city is in the midst of a painful reduction of its work force, several agencies still hire new employees on a regular basis. Among them are the school system, which hires mostly new teachers, and the Police Department, which hires new cadets to replace retiring police officers.

Leaders of some of Baltimore's municipal unions say they would support a residency requirement, but they doubt whether it could work for all city jobs.

"I would support a residency requirement for certain positions," said Cheryl Glenn, president of the City Union of Baltimore. "But I think a requirement would make it difficult to fill certain jobs."

Likewise, Irene B. Dandridge, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, said: "I don't think the answer is requiring city residency, not across the board at least. I think we would never fill some of our jobs."

Dean G. Muscello, first vice president of the Baltimore Fire Officers Association, said he opposes a residency requirement.

"The problem is the way these things are handled. There often ends up being too many waivers," said Mr. Muscello. "It appears to be a good thing. But the next thing you know, other counties are imposing their own requirements as a form of retribution."

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