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Government, Politics & Issues

Should City Employees Have To Live In St. Louis? Voters Will Decide Nov. 3

A view looking out on the rotunda from the second floor of St. Louis city hall.
File photo / Camille Phillips
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St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis voters will decide on Nov. 3 if city employees should be allowed to live where they want. State lawmakers voted earlier this year to temporarily lift the residency requirement for public safety workers.

St. Louis voters will soon decide whether employees of the city should be allowed to live where they want.

Proposition 1 would eliminate a residency requirement that’s been in the city charter since 1914, although rules around employees living in the city have reportedly existed since the 19th century. If the proposition receives 60% approval, all employees except elected officials and high-level appointees, such as cabinet members, would be able to live where they want.

“We’re about 760 employees down,” said Alderman Joe Vaccaro, D-23rd Ward, sponsor of the bill that put the issue on the ballot. “We're having trouble finding anyone that is willing or capable to work refuse. We can't get people to trim trees.”

Supporters like Vaccaro and Alderwoman Carol Howard, D-14th Ward, believe that lifting the requirement will mean a bigger pool of applicants for all city jobs.

“They don’t pay enough,” said Howard in July when the Board of Aldermen debated the ballot proposal for the final time and sent it to Mayor Lyda Krewson. “It's not like they're going to get $100,000 to move into the city and take a job. We're out there trying to offer $35,000 for an entry-level job and asking people to move, and it's folly.”

Aldermen like Shane Cohn, D-25th Ward, said they understood the need for qualified candidates. But Cohn urged his colleagues to take a look at the hiring process as a whole.

“We keep talking about how residency is the root of these issues,” he said in July. But we're not calling in the personnel director or civil service commission members to have discussions around how this system is actually operating.”

And Alderman Jesse Todd, D-18th Ward, argued that the city needed to make better use of its job training program known as SLATE.

“I think more than 90% of the jobs in the city of St. Louis can be done by people who live in St. Louis. And this would help reduce our crime rate,” he said.

2020 marked the fourth attempt by the board to put residency on the ballot. But the issue took on more urgency this year as the Missouri Legislature moved to lift the requirement, at least temporarily, for public safety employees.

Gov. Mike Parson signed that legislation in September — police officers, firefighters, EMS and others hired before Sept. 1, 2023, can live anywhere within a one-hour response time. Anyone hired after that date can move after seven years unless Proposition 1 passes.

City officials, including Krewson and Police Chief John Hayden, have long lobbied to eliminate the residency requirement, especially for police officers. They say it will help address severe understaffing in the department.

The St. Louis Police Officers Association has no plans to campaign for Proposition 1, although the firefighters union said it was trying to come up with one. But Vaccaro said he thinks it will still pass.

“You figure there’s 6,000 employees, plus their families. If they get out and vote, we should be able to get to” 60%, he said.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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