25% of city-parish workers live outside EBR

In East Baton Rouge Parish, more than 1,100 city-parish employees have found they don’t have to live here to work here.

One Baton Rouge police officer lives in St. Bernard Parish in Chalmette. An auditor in the Finance Department lives in St. Tammany Parish in Mandeville. An airport supply manager lives in Crosby, Miss., and a City Court law clerk lives in Jefferson Parish in Kenner.

Nearly 25 percent of Baton Rouge’s city-parish employees live outside the parish for which they work, according to employee data compiled by the parish. The next most popular parish of residence is Livingston, which more than 11 percent of EBR’s employees call home. Another 3.8 percent live in Ascension, and 12 city-parish employees live outside Louisiana, according to the parish’s records.

Now some are eyeing a proposal that would require employees to live in East Baton Rouge Parish — a broadening of a residency proposal that has failed to gain traction in recent weeks.

The recent debate over employee residence began as a battle over people living outside the Baton Rouge city limits and was largely a retaliation against efforts to create a new city in the unincorporated southern portion of the parish.

C. Denise Marcelle, one of the five Metro Council members to propose the strict ordinance requiring residency in Baton Rouge, said the employee residency data has broadened her focus beyond the city limits.

“It’s still open for discussion,” she said of the earlier proposal. “But more alarming now is the number of people who live outside the parish.”

In addition to that shift, Marcelle said, she now thinks the parish should require employees who live outside its boundaries to move “within a set number of years” or risk losing their jobs. The initial proposal was to apply the residency requirement only to new employees.

“The numbers are alarming to me,” said Marcelle, who had requested the data on where city-parish employees reside. “We need to send a clear message.”

More than 1,100 city-parish employees live in other parishes or other states. The numbers don’t include employees of the Sheriff’s Office or the parks system, because they are managed separately.

Residency requirements aren’t entirely uncommon.

The Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office requires its employees to live in the parish, and New Orleans also requires new hires to live in the city.

Nationally, policies that require residency as a condition of government employment have been on the decline in recent years, with some states going as far as barring local government bodies from implementing such policies.

Marcelle said the employee data figures were worse than she had anticipated when she first began pushing for a residency requirement.

“They go home to Livingston Parish in Gonzales, and they shop there. They don’t shop here,” Marcelle said. “We’re not benefiting as a city or parish from them living there, so we have to do something to stop this from going forward.”

Metro Council members who opposed the Baton Rouge residency requirement called it shortsighted and unfair to parish residents who live in Baker, Zachary, Central and the unincorporated areas.

“To tell people that they couldn’t live in areas of the parish that they work for is unconscionable,” said Metro Councilman Trae Welch, whose district includes Baker and Central, as well as large unincorporated tracts.

Welch said he’s still not on board with the proposal, even if it is no longer directly impacting his residents.

“We have to stop looking at ourselves as a bunch of small areas and start embracing ourselves as regions,” he said. “We’re regional, and we’re all in this together.”

Welch said he thinks hiring parish residents is good in practice but shouldn’t be a strict requirement.

“I’d like to see government dollars stay inside the parish in which they’re generated,” Welch said. “But at the same time, that should only be one factor, not the determining factor. It seems like all of these things are shortsighted, and we have to start looking at what we’d need 10 to 15 years down the line.”

Marcelle said she isn’t yet sure the exact form that the next proposal will take. She plans to discuss the employee data with colleagues and attempt to bring the residency requirement up again at a future Metro Council meeting.

“We’re still discussing it,” she said. “Those are some of the things we are looking at.”