A Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision could open the way for local municipalities to again set residency requirements for their employees.
The city of Chippewa Falls wrestled with the issue for years before the 2013-15 state budget banned local governments from enforcing residency requirements for all but police and firefighters.
However, the state 1st District Court of Appeals threw out that ban July 21, saying the law was aimed at gutting Milwaukee’s residency requirements. The appeals court decision could be appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Local officials are split about the possibility of residency requirements resurfacing.
“We have a number of employees who don’t reside in Chippewa County,” County Administrator Frank Pascarella said Wednesday. Some are hourly employees while others are in management.
Pascarella’s address was listed as being Amery in Polk County in a lawsuit brought by Dennis Hunt, a former county finance director. Pascarella said he rents an apartment in Chippewa Falls and that is his residence. He said he has resided in either an apartment or a condominium in Chippewa County since becoming county administrator.
A residency requirement could be a factor in whether some county positions are filled, Pascarella said. “Right now, we’re having a lot of challenges recruiting personnel for a variety of positions,” he said, including in the Highway Department and Sheriff’s Office.
The county’s goal is to be able to provide the best service at the lowest tax rate, he said. If that’s not done, Pascarella said county employees are held accountable by county residents and the Chippewa County Board.
“We’re professionals. And our job is to do what’s in the best interests of the people of Chippewa County,” Pascarella said.
Supervisor Paul Michels, the County Board chairman, does not favor residency requirements for county employees.
“I don’t necessarily agree with residency as being the qualifier for good services being provided by employees,” he said.
He said a county highway department employee who lives in northern part of the city of Eau Claire could get to the county highway shop faster than an employee who lived in northern Chippewa County.
Most people working in county government have cell phones. “We can be in contact with people with the touch of a button,” Michels said.
Residency hasn’t been an issue for employees in the Chippewa Falls School District, School Board President Jerry Smith said.
“I really don’t know what difference it would make,” he said of a residency requirement.
It’s expected the district’s superintendent lives in the school district but that is not required, Smith said.
He said many years ago, when Smith worked as a teacher in the Arkansaw, Wisconsin school district, none of the teachers lived in the district. Instead they lived in nearby Durance and Menomonie, partly because Smith said there was little housing in the area.
“If you had a (residency) requirement for small schools, it would probably destroy them,” Smith said.
Chippewa Falls Mayor Greg Hoffman has worked on residency requirements both as a City Council member and as a mayor.
“I have voiced my concern to our local elected officials that this needs to be determined by local communities. I feel this is a local issue,” he said.
Hoffman said department leaders, those who establish portions of city budgets, should be required to live in the city limits so they have a better understanding of how those taxes impact city residents.
He said while he supports residency requirements for some city employees, he was speaking only about the city and not about what should happen with either Chippewa County or the Chippewa Falls School District.
“I think it’s up to the municipality and-or the county to determine what’s best for their community.” he said.
“I don’t necessarily agree with residency as being the qualifier for good services being provided by employees.” Paul Michels, County Board chairman