Mayor Paul Soglin and city council members are looking to encourage city employees to live in Madison with several new incentive programs.
In the past, city employees were always required to live in the city, Katie Crawley, Soglin’s spokesperson, said. However, this ended in 1980 when buses became a major mode of transportation, and many people decided not to live within city limits over time, Crawley said.
By 2009, about 60 percent of city employees still lived in Madison, Crawley said.
“If we could increase that number, it could be better for emergencies, streets, snow and police,” Crawley said.
A stipulation of the state budget signed by Gov. Scott Walker last June allows city employees to live where they want with the exception of public safety workers who must reside within at least a 15 mile radius of the community that they are serving.
Ald. Sue Ellingson, District 13, said state legislation is taking away the ability for employees to live in Madison. She said the city does provide a living wage to many of its workers, and workers who do make higher wages are living in the city.
Ellingson added that although legislation does not penalize workers for residing outside Madison, the city has to have a way to incentivize the workers and families to stay.
Crawley said Soglin has been researching other neighborhood communities that have financial incentives and housing allowances for city employees. She said many communities also provide the workers with opportunities for loans.
Currently, Soglin has asked some of the city’s human resources directors to propose several options that would encourage employees to live in the city, Crawley said. As of right now, Soglin has chosen no incentives, although there have been ideas and suggestions thrown around about what would be the most successful, she said.
Crawley said there is an economic incentive behind having employees live in Madison. Having city employees residing in the city also ensures that more wages will be spent in the city, which generates revenue, she said. She added it would also be more beneficial to have city workers close to emergency areas.
Ellingson said City Council members feel very strongly about this proposal because while no one employee will be forced or required to live in the city, there are many benefits in doing so.
“We are trying to make the city as strong as it can be,” Ellingson said. “This includes encouraging middle income families to live in the city.”
Ellingson said there is an effort to increase the quality of the city because workers and their families should not have to leave the city and move to the suburbs in order to send their children to good schools. Increasing the number of middle-income families living in the city is not only positive for the city government, but also for schools and neighborhood safety, Ellingson said.
Crawley added living in Madison would also involve employees more in the city.
“If you live in the community, there is more sense of the community,” Crawley said. “Since no one can force anyone to live in the city anymore we will need to get creative.”
City Council will discuss the idea of incentivizing employees to live in the city at its Nov. 19 meeting.