AP NEWS

Council Members Differ On Residency Issue

April 10, 2019

WILKES-BARRE — Some council members disagree with the administration’s concession of removing a residency requirement for city hall employees and paramedics in a new union contract agreement. Councilman Tony Brooks said during a work session on Tuesday night that someone who works for the city “should respect the taxpayers of the city and live in the city.” Referring to a story about the administration reaching an agreement with Local 1310 of the Laborers’ International Union of North America that The Citizens’ Voice published online earlier that day, Brooks said he agreed with most of the provisions negotiated, including contributions toward health insurance premiums and higher pension contributions from the employees. But, Brooks said, city employees who live in Wilkes-Barre are stakeholders in the city, and “the statement that we make by saying you don’t have to live in Wilkes-Barre sends the wrong signal to people who live in Wilkes-Barre.” Brooks noted that police and fire contracts negotiated during previous administrations don’t require residency, and he would like to see that changed as well in upcoming contracts. Brooks also said he pointed out a couple years ago during budget talks that if all police officers moved out of the city, it would equate to about $170,000 in lost earned income tax revenue annually. Add EIT revenue from officers’ spouses, and the loss of revenue would top a quarter-million dollars. Councilwoman Beth Gilbert said she thinks police officers should be allowed to live outside the city because she’s been told they have experienced threats from neighbors and other residents. But she didn’t think the same situation applies to city hall workers or paramedics. Firefighters have a parity clause in their contract that gives them benefits similar to those of police officers. Mayor Tony George told Brooks that he agreed with him, but he believes union arbitrators have decided that “it was unconstitutional to tell someone where they can live.” He said the city lost arbitrations on that issue. George, a former city police chief, said he was never threatened during his 30 years on the city police force. He said city hall employees such as code and health inspectors, tax collection employees and even parking enforcement employees are just as likely to receive threats as police officers. George said after the work session that police and fire employees make an average of $145,000 a year with benefits, while parking enforcement officers, “who probably receive more harassment than anybody,” earn $22,000 to $23,000. So, given that police and fire employees don’t have residency requirements based on a constitutional claim, “I couldn’t see any reason to deny (city hall employees and paramedics the same residency allowance) any longer,” George said. He also said only about one-third of U.S. cities still have residency requirements. In other business, council was asked to consider approving at Thursday’s council meeting resolutions:  Authorizing the destruction of old records from the controller’s and business license/special events offices and the destruction of old parking meter heads that had previously been used for spare parts.  Temporarily allowing the public consumption of wine in the wine tasting area at the Fine Arts Fiesta on Public Square from 3 p.m. until closing time on May 16-19.  Supporting Gov. Tom Wolf’s Restore Pennsylvania initiative, which would involve enacting a severance tax on natural gas drillers and using the $4.5 billion in revenue generated over four years to invest in “significant, high-impact projects throughout the commonwealth,” such as anti-flooding measures, high-speed internet infrastructure, state park and trail maintenance, removal of lead and other contaminants from communities, road and bridge upgrades, and funding for businesses that need local infrastructure upgrades.  Urging residents to participate in the 2020 census, noting that municipalities can lose as much as $2,000 in federal funding annually for each resident not counted. Contact the writer: smocarsky@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2110, @MocarskyCV