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Requiring residency builds community's middle class


June 26, 2013
By G. Michael Dobbs

news@thereminder.com

Should there be residency requirements for municipal employees? That's a question that Springfield is tackling and it's a worthy subject to consider.

The proposal promoted by City Councilor President James Ferrera, members of the business community and other councilors has a logic that is difficult to dismiss: make the non-union city employees live in the city so the excise and property taxes they are currently paying will come to Springfield as well as a chunk of their disposable income to businesses in the city.

There have been a flurry of waivers granted over the years and now, according to Ferrera, there is nearly $2 million in payroll flowing out of the city.

I understand that dropping the residency requirement for union employees was a concession made years ago by the city. I've heard the arguments that police officers, for example, don't want to live in the community in which they work as a measure of security.

I've heard that argument from an officer – not from Springfield – who has since posted a map to his new home on Facebook.

Here's another way of looking at this issue: by allowing municipal employees, union and non-union, to live elsewhere we have weakened our neighborhoods and our middle class.

I'm sure some people would say that it's a matter of personal liberty to live any damn place they want to. Sure, but accepting a municipal job is different in my opinion.

Having city employees live in the city in which they work makes their job less abstract. Under the current system, while I'm sure some folks have an emotional investment in the city regardless of where they live, I'm also willing to bet you lunch at City Jake's there's also a group who simply see their job as a job. Once they leave the city limits, they could care less.

And why should they? They will care about where they pay property taxes, receive municipal services and where their children go to school.

The exodus of city employees has contributed to the decline of the city. Please think about it for a moment. When the U.S. Armory closed in 1968, followed by Westinghouse in 1970, someone in the city should have realized that those institutions carried middle class skilled jobs with them as well as entry-level jobs.

People will follow jobs and if there is a deficit of decent jobs then the remaining citizens will be forced to take jobs that might prevent them from advancing economically.

Add to this condition the bedrock of employment in any community, municipal jobs. Allow these folks to leave the city and it descends further.

And that's what we've done boys and girls. Springfield is a microcosm for the nation. Allow the jobs to leave and the only outcome one can expect is a widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots.

We have to start rebuilding someplace. Telling salaried employees they must live in the city of Springfield is a first step in trying to add some stability to our neighborhoods.

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My wife and I are currently repairing the tornado damage to our back yard – the house had to come first – and I've been thinking about installing an outdoor theater.

Well, I've been thinking about it, which sure as heck doesn't mean it's going to happen. My wife doesn't yet know about my cunning plan.

The weather has been a trigger. At this time of year I think about what Variety called the "ozoners," or drive-ins. Remember The Airline in Chicopee? The Parkway in Wilbraham? Loews in West Springfield?

Those were the days. Sigh. I'm getting a little misty-eyed here.

So I figure we could mount a screen on the back of the house and then bring in a couple of vintage wrecks with good seats to simulate that all important car element to the experience.

I will insist on better speakers than the ones that were mounted on a pole. Retro should only go so far.

Then I'd have to install a tall wall so my neighbors would actually have to work on seeing the films without "paying."

I'm planning the first double feature now.

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at news@thereminder.com or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.



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