MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – Shelby County Commissioners have lifted residency restrictions for public safety employees like deputies and jailers for a two-year hiring period. The goal is to aid in recruitment.
The county’s decision comes as Memphis voters prepare to weigh in on the issue for police and firefighters later this year.
The county can change residency requirements without putting the issue to a referendum vote, unlike the city. Those in favor of lifting residency restrictions said the county action helps to make their case to city voters.
“It just helps to make that argument that in this competitive market you should not leave any stone unturned, any barrier to getting the best officers you can,” said John Covington, Chief Steward, with the Memphis Police Association.
The MPA said county commissioners’ lifting residency requirements for public safety employees helps get the issue out in front of city voters, who will make their own choice in November.
In the October 2019 municipal election, the police and fire associations got a sales tax hike for public safety passed by a 52% vote.
“In this situation, just like in our referendum, we’re going to get out there, talk to people, get our story out, get the message out, and we feel like when it’s put in the hands of the people, they’ll make a decision we feel we’ll be happy with,” said Covington.
County commissioners approved relaxed residency in their meeting Monday night after weeks of lobbying by Sheriff Floyd Bonner. Commissioners took the first vote on relaxed residency last week.
The ordinance impacts sheriff’s deputies, jailers, corrections officers, firefighters and paramedics until 2022. Those living outside the county will make $2,500 less than those living inside the county.
Added provisions include an option for current employees to move outside of the county and take the deduction, as well as get it back if a newly hired employee living outside the county moves inside the county.
“It is totally an economic issue to me,” said Martavius Jones, Memphis City Council member.
Jones tried to pull back the referendum that puts the city’s residency question to voters, but his effort was unsuccessful. He said he has concerns about those from out of town patrolling city streets, but his biggest worry is that loosening residency will push city money out of Shelby County.
“If we’re opening the doors and saying you can live anywhere that does nothing for the value of the residences that we have in Memphis,” he said.
The county’s hiring change goes into effect April 1, 2020, and lasts until April 1, 2022.
The city’s referendum on the issue is in November and would limit hiring to neighboring counties or within a 50-mile radius if voters approve it.