Residency requirement would limit EBR city-parish hires

The five women of the Metro Council have proposed a controversial residency requirement forbidding the city-parish from hiring anyone who lives outside of Baton Rouge’s municipal limits or the parish’s unincorporated area.

The move is in part a response to the recent efforts to incorporate the southern part of the parish into the c ity of St. George.

If the residency requirement were approved by the Metro Council, then no one living outside of the parish, or in the cities of Baker, Central or Zachary, could work for the city-parish.

If the proposed city of St. George were to become a city, then no one living there could be hired to work for the city-parish, either.

The residency requirement would grandfather in all employees hired before Jan. 31, 2014, but it’s unclear what would happen to employees who later move into the proscribed areas. No draft of the proposal was available as of Thursday.

“There’s been a concern with all the information floating across the city relative to the breakaway,” Metro Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards said. “We thought there should also be included in that debate what other municipalities have done when their tax bases have been threatened and when many resources leave the parish.”

Local economists have predicted that incorporating St. George would reduce the city-parish’s general fund by $53 million. St. George promoters, however, say the shortfall would be closer to $14 million.

Edwards said the job restriction would create an incentive for employees to stay in the City of Baton Rouge and maintain the tax base.

“If we’re not offering opportunities here and maintaining it for the people who are actually paying into and investing in the tax base, then there’s something wrong with that picture,” she said. Norman Browning, a St. George leader, said city-parish workers provide services to people across the parish and in the various municipalities.

“The services they provide are parishwide, so why would we block their ability to hire from across the parish?” Browning said. “Taxes are just not dedicated to Baton Rouge, it’s a parishwide tax base.”

Mayor-President Kip Holden called the proposal “one of the worst ideas we could ever have,” cautioning it could result in other cities or governmental entities passing similar rules that would prevent Baton Rouge residents from working for other governmental entities.

“Why pick a battle you don’t have to pick? We’re all one body trying to work together to keep this city moving,” he said. “They seem hell bent on coming up with destructive things and I’d call on them to analyze what they’re doing, because just like they’re starting a separation movement and setting up this criteria. It will lead to a snowball effect where other cities are doing the same thing.”

Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle said the rule is not uncommon in other cities.

For example, the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office requires its employees to be residents of the parish.

“So I can’t go there and be a (deputy) but they can come here and get hired,” she said.

New Orleans also has an ordinance that requires new hires to live in the city.

“It’s something we need to look at, especially if people want to start making their own cities, then maybe you want to employ the people in your own city,” Marcelle said.

Councilman Buddy Amoroso said the measure is irresponsibly stirring up tensions with St. George supporters.

“They’re putting fire on the situation and making the situation even worse,” he said.

Amoroso said he thinks residency shouldn’t be a consideration when hiring for a city-parish job.

“We need to be able to hire the best and brightest and I don’t care where they live,” he said. “I’m not going to make those family decisions for the employees of Baton Rouge.”

The measure is sponsored by Marcelle, Edwards, Tara Wicker, Chauna Banks-Daniel and Donna Collins-Lewis. It is expected to be voted on at the Jan. 8 meeting.

In March, Marcelle started a dialogue about residency requirements when she proposed an ordinance requiring city-parish employees to leave their vehicles in the parish. The change would have had the most impact on city police officers who are issued take-home vehicles. More than 200 city police officers issued cars live outside of the parish.

Marcelle was concerned about the cost of gas for vehicles being taken out of the parish, but the council tabled the proposal out of concerns that it could deter applicants to the police force from outside the parish.