Carrot and Stick

April 08, 1995

Two years ago, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke issued executive orders to force all Baltimore municipal employees to live in the city. The attempt was a bust. Police officers were quickly exempted, as were classroom employees. About the only workers theoretically affected by the order were firefighters. But even that was virtually meaningless, because the city has hired a mere 50 new firefighters in the past two years.

Yet the residency requirement succeeded in making area legislators mad at Mr. Schmoke and the city. That feeling of animosity has now been codified in a bill that, if signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, would prohibit Baltimore and other jurisdictions from requiring employees to live where they work.

Whether or not the governor signs the bill into a law, this legislative anger underscores what an explosive issue residency requirements can be. With nearly two-thirds of Baltimore's police force living outside the city, it also suggests that those officers -- and other similarly suburbanized city workers -- may have more political clout among their home counties' legislators than at City Hall.

We have considerable sympathy for Baltimore City and its problems, which have been aggravated by a middle-class exodus in the past several decades. There are those who firmly believe that since city municipal workers are paid from tax

revenues, they ought to reside in the city.

Employing police officers, firefighters and teachers who are city residents may indeed be highly desirable. They would have a stake in the city and, presumably, would make doubly sure it and its institutions work.

A residency requirement is one way to achieve this goal. But there are plenty of other ways.

A pilot program to increase homeownership among municipal employees has been so successful it is nearly fully subscribed just seven months after its initiation. Under that program, qualifying city employees buying full-time residences in the city could get up to $10,000 for down payments, closing costs and renovations.

When initial funds run out, we urge the city to continue this program. At the same time, the Schmoke administration should try to find private business groups in the city to participate in similar efforts. A model could be Yale University, which gives its employees $2,000 a year for 10 years if they buy a home in New Haven, Conn.

Baltimore's choice is between the carrot of imaginative inducements and the stick of penalties. If you can't force city employees to live in the city, make the prospect so attractive that they can't easily turn it down.

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