MARION — The City of Marion could be changing its residency requirement for employees.
Currently, the city has a residency requirement for all full- and part-time employees: They must live within a 10-mile radius of City Hall.
“What we are wanting to do for the police department is to push this out to a 20-mile limit,” Commissioner John Barwick told the City Council Dec. 9 during its regular meeting.
The city has two options when hiring police officers. They can hire someone who is untrained, send them to the academy at a cost of $5,000 to $6,000 and spend six to eight months training the new officer; or hire an officer who is already certified to meet state standards and is ready to work on Day 1. There is a little bit of field training for a certified officer, but it is minimal.
When the city recently offered its entry-level test for police officers, 15 people applied. Only nine actually showed up to take the test. Of those nine, only two passed the test.
“Right now on our eligibility list we only have two people. That’s unacceptable,” Police Chief David Fitts said.
He added that this problem is showing up in police departments across the country. It’s getting harder and harder to get good qualified people to apply for positions as police officers.
That's where the residency requirement comes in.
“I’m not sure it (residency requirement) is relevant today, whether it’s 10 miles or 20 miles or 50 miles. Is it relevant today?” Commissioner Doug Patton asked.
Barwick, who is public health and safety commissioner, pointed out that the proposal also saves the city time and money.
“If we don’t want to go to the route of sending them to school and spend $5,000 to $6,000 plus training 6 to 8 months, our alternative is to hire certified officers, and there’s not that many certified officers in the area we currently have,” Barwick said.
The majority of employees hired for city positions are not required to have any state certification.
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Mayor Mike Absher said he was asked “a number of questions” about this issue during his campaign. “A surprising number of people are pretty volatile about this issue,” Absher said, adding that he believed it was a bit of a throwback.
“We played Herrin in football, and we didn’t want somebody from Herrin being a police officer. I honestly think it’s that simple,” Absher said.
Commissioner John Stoecklin said he heard employees had to live in Marion and pay taxes in Marion. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we just got rid of that,” Stoecklin said, referring to a tax levy the council had just passed.
Absher said there is more difficulty in recruiting employees today than in the past four or five years — not only for his own businesses, but for every business owner.
“If we advertise for a street department position, we have more qualified applicants than if we advertise for a police officer," Absher said. "If we relax our thinking a little bit, not only can we get more qualified candidates, but we may get candidates that serve from another municipality that are otherwise qualified and may save us money."
Absher asked the commissioners if they wanted to extend the residency limits for police officers, police and firefighters, or for all city employees. He also asked them to consider the cost of upkeep on police vehicles driven to and from officers’ homes, if they live farther away.
“If we end up with the majority of them more than 10 miles out, the costs will rack up,” Absher said.
“It may surprise some of you to know that the majority of our cars, we keep a minimum of 10 years," Fitts said. "And for a squad car, that’s very rare."
Commissioner Jim Webb asked if it was a hiring situation or if the requirement remained in place throughout employment. Currently, new city employees are given 18 months to move within the limits.
“This needs to be discussed with the union,” said City Attorney Wendy Cunningham.
The mayor directed his chief of staff, Cody Moake, to begin talks with the bargaining units.
In other business:
- The city passed a $100 tax levy on property within the city, virtually eliminating property taxes paid to the City of Marion.
- Approved a bid from Brown Electric for a traffic control device to be installed at the intersection of South Carbon Street and Westminster Drive for a total of just over $17,000.
- Discussed the alternative of installing a three-way stop on College Street near the square instead of making the street one-way.
- Approved Resolution 19-22, the first step for an agreements related to the proposed residential TIF District between the city and Brynnlayne Properties to build a couple of houses on the old Warder Street Church property. If the TIF passes, a formal agreement will be done.
- Approved changes to employee handbook sections 2.3 and 3.2 related to rolling over unused vacation or being paid for them.
- Approved an operational audit of The HUB to be performed by Sports Facilities Management at a cost of $18,000. This is being done at the five-year anniversary of The HUB.