Mayors gather in Madison to discuss residency requirement

MADISON (WITI) -- Mayors from Wisconsin on Wednesday, May 8th converged in Madison to denounce Gov. Scott Walker's plans to do away with residency requirements for city employees. These mayors say getting rid of the residency requirement will bust budgets, while Gov. Walker says it is all about giving people choices.

Lifting the long-standing residency requirement was a single sentence in Gov. Walker's 2013 state budget. Now, one mayor says the motive can be summed up in a single word.

"Payback," Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said.

Mayors from around the state gathered on Wednesday and sounded off on Gov. Walker's two-year budget -- specifically the part that eliminates the residency requirement.

Perhaps no mayor has as much at stake as Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, with 1,590 police officers and 815 firefighters living and working in the city.

"Property taxes are a huge issue. We've seen a lot of downward pressure on property values over the last five years. This puts even more downward pressure on property values and shifts a lot of the tax burden to businesses, and I don't want to see that happen," Mayor Barrett said.

Mayor Barrett says there is the potential that a number of officers and firefighters could leave the city -- eroding the property tax base.

"It's just an invalid argument.  It doesn't hold any water. You look at other places, Indianapolis, St. Louis -- other communities across the country that don't have residency, that hasn't devastated their economy," Gov. Walker said.

Mayor Barrett says the last time there were 100 openings in the fire department, there were 5,700 applicants, and only 18 voluntary resignations in the last decade.

"We have absolutely no problem attracting applicants. We have absolutely no problem in retaining people who have this job.  This is a solution in search of a problem," Mayor Barrett said.

"In the end, it's about freedom and saying if you want to have a great city, you should make it attractive, just like we're trying to make it a great state.  We're not forcing people to be in Wisconsin. We want them to want to be here, to live here, to work here, to play here," Gov. Walker said.

The Joint Finance Committee is scheduled to take action on the residency issue on Thursday at the state Capitol.

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