NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WJAR) — New Bedford city councilors approved an ordinance impacting non-resident municipal employees by way of a 10% pay cut.
The residency requirement ordinance encourages city workers to live where they work, but there are some exceptions.
It passed 10-1 at the New Bedford City Council meeting on Thursday. Debora Coelho was the only city councilor who expressed concerns.
A copy of the ordinance says exceptions include workers employed by the city for 10 years and others who have a residency waiver, which lasts for a period of six months and allowed one extension.
According to the mayor’s office, of the more than 1,365 city employees on payroll, 42 have active residency waivers.
Certain positions, like city planner and director of public health, have no exceptions. Police and fire unions will not be impacted.
“It’s simply incentivizing people to live in the city, to pay taxes here in the city, to spend money here in the city and to be vested in the city if they’re going to work for the city,” said Scott Lima, city councilor for Ward 5.
NBC 10 News legal analyst Mark Dana said while the 10% pay cut could create more of an equal protection argument for municipal workers, he said it’s a valid constitutional ordinance.
“Dating back to the 1970s, there have been ordinances likes this indicating that municipal employees must live where they work, and the vast majority of courts have held that’s OK,” he said. “I think if it’s fought in court, municipal workers are going to have an uphill battle.”
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said he plans to veto the ordinance, and released the following statement: “In passing this novel ordinance, the City Council at once watered down the City’s residency requirement, and made it more difficult for the City to recruit qualified applicants for positions that require specialized expertise or significant experience. It is especially disappointing that the Council completely eliminated the residency requirement after ten years of service, as if that marks the point at which an employee somehow has ‘earned’ the right not to live in the city. Our policies should affirm the notion that New Bedford is a great place to live, and they should make it easier for city government to attract talent, so that our residents can receive the high quality services they deserve.”
The ordinance will head back to the city council for another vote.