Thousands of city employees live out of town

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by KELI RABON / KVUE News Defenders

kvue.com

Posted on November 3, 2011 at 10:20 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 4 at 3:39 PM

AUSTIN -- Scot Maitland knows that every sale at Live Oak Pharmacy is good for his business and for the city of Austin.

"The money that's spent in Austin, the tax dollars, go to fund the police department, the fire department, our school, education for our kids," Maitland said.

Those tax dollars pay the salaries of more than 13,000 City of Austin employees, but according to payroll records obtained by the KVUE Defenders, 40 percent of those city employees don't live inside city limits.

"If you want to work for the City, why wouldn't you want to live here?" Maitland said.

Of the City's 13,202 employees, 5,487 don't live in Austin. Instead, the KVUE Defenders found city workers living up to 200 miles away, in places like Laredo, Arlington, and Beaumont.

KVUE Defenders found 206 city employees living in Bastrop, 89 in San Antonio, and 21 in Killeen.

According to economist Angelos Angelou, the issue equals nearly $500 million per year in economic impact.

"We don't expect that income will come to Austin," Angelou said. "They're buying their gas from there, they're buying their groceries, they're buying other retail from those cities. It's the lifeblood of income that supports small businesses, particularly in the retail sector."

Angelou says the city is missing out on other revenues like property taxes and utility fees that help to pay the salaries of those city employees.

"Definitely the cost benefit for Austin would be much better if all those people worked in Austin, had homes in Austin, and consumed utilities that are city-owned," Angelou said.

Under state law, cities can't require employees to live inside city limits, but they can have residency requirements for civil service employees like police, fire, and EMS. KVUE Defenders' investigation found 62 percent of Austin's public safety employees don't live in Austin. 

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo says his employees can live wherever they choose.

"I'm not really concerned," Acevedo said. "A third of our people do live here; the majority of our people live a reasonable distance from here. You can always find exceptions. You can always find people that live an hour away, but that's the exception and not the rule."

Though Austin Police Department officers are among the highest paid in the state with starting salaries of $54,000, Acevedo says living in Austin is still too expensive for many people.

But KVUE Defenders' investigation found that 219 APD employees make more than $100,000 in base pay. Of those, 158 live outside city limits.

In the Austin Fire Department, 88 employees make more than $100,000 in base pay and 60 of those employees don't live in Austin.

"A lot of them have a lifestyle that involves acreage and horses and cattle, and a lifestyle that wouldn't be supported within the city limits," AFD Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr said. 

Chief Kerr says she doesn't think a residency requirement is necessary. Even if there was a major emergency, Kerr says AFD would have it covered.

"If I did an emergency callback, I would not need them immediately, but within several hours," Kerr said. 

Angelou says economically, residency requirements make sense. 

"If we're trying to have people live in Austin and spend money in Austin, from that perspective, it's going to be beneficial. I just don't know how practical it is," Angelou said.

From a business perspective, Maitland says he doesn't know anyone who wouldn't like to have a few more neighbors who work local and shop local.

"Look at the fires that broke out all over Central Texas," Maitland said. "To be able to have more of those resources available on-site locally does all of us better, and makes Austin a safer place for our families, and again, more attractive to businesses to want to be here in Austin."

OTHER CITIES WITH RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS
  • Fort Worth, TX - Public safety employees must live within 30 minutes of station.
  • Galveston, TX -  Fire employees must live within 75 miles of Central Fire station.
  • Brownsville, TX - Police must be able to respond within 25 minutes.
  • Chicago, IL - All city employees must live within city limits.
  • Sacramento, CA - Emergency safety employees must live within 35 miles.
  • Phoenix, AZ - All city employees must live within 35 miles of city limits.
  • Boston, MA - All city employees must live within city limits.
You can follow investigative reporter Keli Rabon on her Facebook page here.

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