Watch now: Decatur City Council votes to drop residency requirement | Government and Politics
DECATUR – Decatur city council voted on Monday to officially repeal a five-year-old policy recommendation that all city workers live within city limits.
The action comes as the city seeks to increase the pool of potential employees in a tight labor market. Several key positions, such as civil engineering, have been vacant for long periods.
“Workers are hard to find,” said Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe. “We can’t even get people to work in restaurants for lunch.”
Although it had long been seen as an option to spur recruitment efforts, the repeal of the residency policy became inevitable when the city abandoned its insistence new police officers live within the city limits of Decatur for the first five years of their employment.
It was one of the last issues to be resolved before the city and Unit 39 of the Police Benevolence and Protection Association reached an agreement, which was ratified by the union in August and approved by the board twweeks ago.
Under Illinois law, collective agreements supersede any action by city council on residence. This meant that when the original ordinance was passed in 2016, it only applied to non-union positions.
However, unions representing the city’s firefighters and civilian employees quickly agreed to the five-year residency clause for new hires.
The police union stood firm. The matter was to be settled through arbitration until the city abandoned its claim, which was done in part to attract new agents. The retirements have outpaced the hiring of new agents for years.
Watch Now: Decatur Board Approves Police Contract
The vote was 5-1, with Councilor Bill Faber the only one to vote “no”. City Councilor Dennis Cooper was not present.
Faber said he was not angry with City Manager Scot Wrighton for the town’s new post as council gave him leeway to drop the residency issue in negotiations with the police union .
“But let’s understand this from a historical perspective: our decision tonight is a step backwards, it’s a desperate policy made in terms of trying to put a deal in place, and it’s really going to jeopardize, I believe, strengthening our community, ”said Faber.
Councilor Ed Culp, on the other hand, saw it as “a step forward.”
“We think outside the box,” Culp said. “We need to open up our recruitment.
City Councilor David Horn, a longtime supporter of the residency requirement, agreed that it should be repealed if the city felt it would help attract more workers.
“So if the obstacle to the allocation of vacancies is the residency requirement, I am in favor of removing it,” Horn said. “The city’s biggest concern is not having employees to fill key positions: too few police, engineers, and neighborhood service personnel (are) just three examples or problems for police operations. the city.”
The city had 474 full-time equivalent positions in 2020, according to city documents. Wrighton said he was unsure of the proportion of people living within Decatur city limits, but estimated that “about half” of the city’s police officers lived outside the city.
To be clear, the residency requirement is still on the books for a number of city employees. Those with a department head rank or higher will still need to be city residents as a condition of employment.
Other employees would likely be subject to certain residency restrictions, such as living in Macon County.
And union contracts with city residency arrangements would need to be amended for the change to take effect for these employees.
Separately, council had its first discussion on the city’s annual property tax, which likely won’t see a vote until December.
Wrighton has sought advice from council as city staff prepare to make the annual request. Most council members have sought to protect the city’s taxpayers from an increase, with many expressing concern about the impact inflation could have on property values.
Last year, the city approved a tax levy of $ 14.46 million, most of it going to police and firefighters’ pensions and the library. These were equivalent to about $ 1.70 per $ 100 of appraised value, or about $ 1,700 on a home appraised at $ 100,000.
Wrighton offered three possible options. The former would keep the levy unchanged, which would likely lead to a lower tax rate due to the growth in the equalized assessed value.
The second would keep the tax rate the same, which would effectively increase most property tax bills due to the increase in property values.
The third would levy the amount necessary to cover the full cost of pensions and other obligations covered by the tax levy.
The first two options would save businesses and residents a massive increase in property taxes, but would likely require the city to dip into the general fund for at least $ 1 million to cover full pension payment.
Most board members appeared to be in favor of option two or a hybrid of option one and option two. Everyone has said they would like to see Wrighton come back with this hybrid option before taking action.