If Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has his way, city employees who live outside New Haven’s borders will have to move to keep their jobs.
DeStefano said he intends to push state legislators to allow the city to require its government employees to live within city limits at the current legislative session, which convened last Wednesday and will continue until June. Amid the city’s efforts to bring a $12 million budget gap under control, DeStefano said a residency requirement would contribute to the city’s tax base and improve services such as public safety and education.
“This is a matter of pursuing equity for local communities, and cities should be able to make these types of decisions for themselves,” DeStefano said.
According to a memo given to the Board of Aldermen by the mayor’s staff last October, only about 23 percent of teachers and 21 percent of police officers live in New Haven. Most of the city’s lowest-paid and highest-paid employees live in the city, while those in between largely live elsewhere.
Ward 29 Alderman and Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield said he remembers a “meaningful impact” of growing up with teachers living in his neighborhood. As for police officers, he said he does not know “how they can police the city and then go home to the suburbs, wiping their hands at the end of the day and going to where there aren’t any problems.”
Ward 1 Alderman Michael Jones ’11 said he supports the idea of a residency requirement because employees will be more invested in their work if they live in the communities they serve. Still, he said, the idea of a “blanket requirement” troubles him, and if implemented, he said he hopes the city would try to find ways to help city employees find housing in New Haven or offer incentives to live in the city.
Goldfield, however, said such incentives would be problematic, since the city is already fiscally constrained.
Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark said she has reservations about the proposed requirement.
Clark says she is wary of the proposal because it emphasizes town borders rather than promoting “regionalism.” While she appreciates the immediate fiscal concerns, she said, in the long run such a requirement may be a “nail in the coffin” of intermunicipal cooperation. Clark added that Connecticut’s small size makes it ideal for greater statewide and regional efforts.
“I happen to believe that one of the worst things in the state of Connecticut is that we are 169 towns — everyone has to have their own chief of police, their own board of education, and the like,” Clark said. “If we want to prosper, we are really limited by this sort of provincial attitude.”
Clark said she is not necessarily going to oppose the proposal, but she wants its impact on regional cooperation to at least be discussed.
Goldfield said he is pessimistic about the chances that state legislators will grant the city the ability to pass a residency requirement, especially since politically influential unions were responsible for banning such requirements in 1989.
The head of the New Haven police union, Sgt. Louis Cavaliere, told the New Haven Independent on Mar. 30, 2010 that he strongly opposed the requirement.
“Who are they to say where I can live?” he said. “It’s almost like the Obama health care plan which can fine me in four years if I don’t have health insurance.”
With a Democratic administration in Hartford, Goldfield said he thinks the odds are even lower, since many state Democrats rely on unions for political support.
“I’d be shocked if this changed,” Goldfield said. “There’s just no incentive for [state legislators] to do it.”
Still, DeStefano said he believes the proposal has a legitimate chance in Hartford, especially in the context of the fiscal problems facing New Haven.
“I think it will get a fair hearing in the legislature,” DeStefano said. “The fact that there’s fiscal stress in local governments will hopefully make it possible to do what hasn’t been done before.”
In total, about 63 percent of city employees live in cities other than New Haven.