City Pay, City Residence

January 29, 1992

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's proposal to require Baltimore's 27,700 municipal employees to live in the city is a radical one. That it is floated during this General Assembly session illustrates Mr. Schmoke's growing desperation as he reviews his administration's options in these economic hard times. Not only is the life jacket of federal aid long gone but various proposals to channel more state aid through tax revisions seem to receive nothing but hostility from legislators in Annapolis.

One of the factors contributing to Baltimore's fiscal problems is that nearly 200,000 people commute to the city every day. Those commuters hold many of the choicest private-sector jobs. They use a variety of city services. But since local income tax revenue goes to a worker's home county and not the jurisdiction where it is earned, these commuters take with them to the suburbs an estimated $112.5 million in local income-tax revenue. Gov. William Donald Schaefer attempted to change that by proposing to divert a portion of the current piggyback income tax to the city. He was jeered and hooted by legislators.

There is nothing Mr. Schmoke can do about this unless legislators have a change of heart. City workers, however, are another matter. They can easily be required to live in the city.

A late 1970s court ruling sanctioned a city mandate that firefighters be city residents when they are hired. Yet once on the force, they can live anywhere. So many firefighters have moved to the surrounding counties that only 51 percent now live in the city. Only 36 percent of sworn police officers live in the city.

More is at stake than one's place of residence. A public safety employee who moves out of the city demonstrates a lack of commitment and empathy toward the government and taxpayers he or she has pledged to serve. Call-ups in emergencies, for example, are much more difficult.

During the boom years, it was argued that strict residency requirements would make it impossible for the city to compete with the private sector for qualified personnel. We doubt this is true in today's climate. In any case, over the years Baltimore has been able to hire many top-flight managers and administrators from other parts of the state or the country who had no qualms about living in the city.

What's been happening among city workers mirrors the decision of the city's middle class in general: the higher the salary, the more likely an individual is to gravitate to the suburbs. Yet these are the families that the city desperately needs, not only to retain its tax base but also to keep intact its social fabric. Mayor Schmoke's proposal is a last-ditch measure. We urge him to work out a detailed plan and submit it to city workers as well as to the overall community.

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