Should certain village employees be required to live in town?

RANTOUL — The employee-residency issue again reared its head at last week’s Rantoul Village Board study session.

Village trustees debated whether any or all village employees should be required to live in or near the corporate limits.

The board agreed to form a focus group to meet with employees on the subject. The decision came after a great deal of discussion.

The residency issue was raised most recently when Public Works Director Greg Hazel asked the board to waive a requirement that the assistant public works director position be considered “essential,” meaning he or she must live within 4 miles of the village limits.  Hazel said lifting the restriction would allow for a larger pool of candidates to be considered.

The board initially appeared to not favor lifting the mileage restriction but then relented and agreed to do so last month.

At issue is the category of “essential,” for someone who is required to live close to town in the event of an emergency.

Trustee Sam Hall said he has spoken to “many residents about the topic, and 95 percent of the people say, ‘We want to keep residency. We want to keep our people in town,’ and I do, too. We should fill our borders with everyone we can.”

Hall said there are certain area communities that don’t require employee residency and are fine.

“That seems to work for them, but maybe it doesn’t work for us,” Hall said. “We have talked about incentives.”

Trustee Rich Medlen said the village has about 120 full-time employees, and about 60 percent of them live in town. He said village code, which needs to be clarified, requires that the administrator, comptroller and all department heads live in town.

Members of the police department, other than the chief, are not required to live in town.

“You can ask the police department to live in town, but I guarantee you ain’t breaking that contract,” Medlen said.

Village attorney Ken Beth said the residency requirement has been brought up in negotiations in the last two contract negotiations, asking if the union would agree to some sort of residency requirement.

“Those proposals have not gone anywhere,” Beth said, adding that a residency requirement is not common throughout the state in union contracts.

Medlen said the school districts have the same issue. He said school officials, including administrators, have no residency requirement.

Medlen asked if the village board really wants to limit the public works department to, say, the 14th-most-qualified applicant because the rest don’t want to live in town?

“We want the best people possible,” Medlen said.

Some have mentioned possible incentives for employees to live in town.

In the public comment section, resident Wendell Golston said one job he worked was 60 miles away from home and he showed up on time.  

“When you’re talking about spending money to have someone live here, they are paid,” Golston said. “We’re paying them a salary.”

As far as easing the residency restriction to attract better candidates, Golston offered, “Some time we might have to get down to 14 (on the most-qualified list); we might have to get to 41. But you know what? That no. 14 or 41 might be what we needed anyway. So let’s not look at what’s always on top. Sometimes we have to look a what’s on the bottom — foundation.”

Hall said the board needs to consider “what can make Rantoul super attractive? What’s the root cause (of some people not wanting to live in town)? Why are we having this discussion?”

Trustee Chad Smith said the board needs to decide what positions will be classified as essential.

“Everyone who is employed by the village of Rantoul is essential in their own job,” Smith said. “I can tell you on Sunday when we have a downpour and we have a lot of streets that were flooded, the staff at the street department were called in to fix the problem. They become the essential personnel, not everyone else.”

Smith said no one, excluding the police department, is going to deal with a life-or-death situation.

“We do not (have a residency requirement) for our police department outside of 20 miles,” Smith said. “If we have a true emergency,” the ones who will be called on to respond are the police department.

Smith said all of the 33 members of the village fire department live inside the corporate limits, “and we get the job done.”

“I don’t like the essential-non essential (category),” Smith said. “Everybody on staff is essential.”

Beth said in many cases, husband and wife are both employed with “different demands on their family situation. That, too, works its way into the policy decision.”

The village code is broken into three categories — “live within the corporate limits”; “live within 4 miles of the corporate limits”; and “live within 20 miles of the corporate limits.”

Trustee Jennifer Fox said the board needs to look at each classification, position by position and consider how employees fit in one of the three categories.

Fox said 100 percent of those who have approached her about the issue favor residency for village employees.

“Part of it is the whole perception thing,” Fox said. “If we’re not strong enough in our belief that our town is a town that we want to live in, that we’re not going to require top people to live in here, I think that sends a bad message.”

Village Clerk Mike Graham said in the late ‘90s, the Illinois firefighters and police unions got the state statute amended to allow them to bargain about residency.

Former Mayor Joe Brown allowed members of the Rantoul Police Department to live within 20 miles or 20 minutes of Rantoul in the 1999 FOP contract.

Trustee Hank Gamel said all of those on the board are committed to the Rantoul Tomorrow Initiative, and the core foundation of that with regards to neighborhoods is that “people want to work and live where they can have the lifestyle they desire.”

He said when counting seasonal employees, the village employs perhaps more than 200, which he said is a small percentage of a town of 13,000 people.

“I would suggest we start talking to stakeholders such as employees who are covered with a collective bargaining agreement. They would probably be interested in having a conversation of why some people don’t want to live here and others do. I feel that would give some powerful insight into the rest of the people who don’t live here or who have moved.”

dhinton@rantoulpress.com
 

Comments

Rantoul Press embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. we reserve the right to remove any comment at its discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments