West Allis — With a new state law virtually abolishing residency requirements for city workers, the Common Council decided to give top administrators, including fire and police chiefs, the freedom to live even farther than the 15-mile radius specified by state legislators.
The approximately 30 administrators who currently have to live in West Allis will soon be able to live outside the city just as other West Allis municipal employees have been able to do for years.
Aldermen acted on the issue last week as a Committee of the Whole and will formally change the city's ordinances and policies soon.
Police, fire concessions
There was concern about fire and police chiefs living farther away in case of an emergency. But the majority of aldermen expressed the view that the city would be able to handle emergencies because help is available from nearby communities through mutual aid agreements and because technology means commanders can direct operations off-site.
Some aldermen also noted that firefighters and police officers already can live outside the city, so chiefs should have the same rules.
But that opinion wasn't unanimous.
'Our police chief could live in Slinger or Mount Pleasant by these limits,' said Alderman Michael May, referring to the boundaries that are generally Highway 60 on the north, Highway 20 on the south and Highway 67 on the east.
Those boundaries have applied to police officers for years and the consensus of the council was to have the same rules for chiefs, but May wasn't comfortable with allowing that much transit time in emergencies.
'I'd rather see our police chief get here quicker than that,' he said.
Alderman Marty Weigel was more comfortable with the arrangement, saying, 'If we're relying on one person to show up, it's not a good system.'
Pay to stay close
Besides, the city can encourage the chiefs as well as all the top administrators to stay in West Allis by establishing a two-tier pay scale, City Administrator Paul Zieler suggested. City and perimeter pay is already used to encourage other city workers to live in the city, he said.
Firefighters can live a maximum of 30 minutes away with a 60-minute response time.
The approximately 300 general city workers used to have the same boundaries as police, but now can live anywhere. May wondered if Department of Public Works personnel could be kept closer in case an infrastructure emergency happens such as a water main break.
If that happens, May said, 'You don't want all your employees living an hour away.'
But Audrey Key, human resources manager, reiterated that the city has been able to respond quickly to such infrastructure emergencies because the two-tier pay setup has kept enough workers close by.
Ziehler also said the city might be on shaky legal ground expanding the definition of emergency services to DPW.
The intent of the law seems to focus on police and fire personnel, he said.
Requiring all DPW workers to live close by, he said, 'On a routine basis it would be difficult to defend.'