Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Frank You Very Much

I was heartened to see the quotes from CC Murphy, CC Descoteaux, and CC Mendonca regarding the re-surfacing of the residency requirement issue for city employees. Here is a snippet from the Sun regarding CC Descoteaux's thoughts on the matter:
Councilor Franky Descoteaux said she supports the long-term of goal of more Lowellians working in the city, but also does not believe a residency requirement should be mandatory.

"Practically, however, as municipal employees' pay and benefits increase, and as taxpayers, and state and federal agencies place higher demands on government systems, I am more inclined to prioritize getting the best possible value in an employee -- including education, experience and aptitude -- rather than whether they come from Lowell or not," she said.

Descoteaux said she would be willing to look into policies that give new hires incentives to move to Lowell, including providing a one-time monetary benefit to those that do so.

As a sideline judge, I give the quote here a "10" because it hits on all the important points -- first, that an in-city residence mandate is a bad idea (chiefly because it would limit the available pool of people to draw from, and all the outside experiences/opinions they would bring to bear); second, because it hits on the idea that we're going to increasingly rely on government services in the years ahead, and that we should expect much from its well-compensated employees (Luke 12:48); and thirdly, that a commonsense middle-ground solution could allow the city to draw from a worldwide labor pool but then incentivize city residence and then benefit from the way that would enhance the tax base and generate more social capital across the municipal gov't/private citizen sphere.


Patrick said...


Hope you’ve caught up on some lost sleep…

I agree with the gist of Franky's comments--and support most of the sideline judge's ruling--but I'm going to throw the flag on the last point. At first glance, a one-time monetary incentive seems like a good idea, but upon further review (I swear I won't carry on like this) it may actually send unintended signals. First, applicants from outside the city who are told that Lowell is alive. unique. inspiring. must wonder why there needs to be a financial incentive to inspire one to move here. Second, the local applicants who are told they are equally qualified for city positions must wonder why those outside applicants need to be recruited with a benefit unavailable to them. So we begin with the purpose of touting Lowell and its people, and end with further tension between locals and outsiders who are, in effect, given an added benefit despite the fact that they may live in Dracut or perhaps that netherworld known as Chelmsford.

The second problem with a financial incentive centers on the effective use of resources. I think that people have raised the idea before to offer down-payment assistance for teachers, police officers and firefighters who choose to live in the city. Yet we are only halfway through the fiscal year and all the federal housing funds have been committed through our down-payment assistance program to low-income individuals and families. These funds come with strict income eligibility requirements. So the question returns to one I continue to raise of performance standards: would the resulting benefits of such a program merit the expenditure, and do so without detriment to existing programs for low-income households which already have a remarkably strong track record? It is probably useful here to apply the "but-for" standard which was originally intended for tax increment financing (TIF) agreements; that is, would the proposed investment (in this case, to move to Lowell) not have happened but for the incentive (down-payment assistance) in place? That is a hard case to argue. I would rather continue to commit funds to a program which has and can be proven to improve the stability of our neighborhoods and community, than create another subsidy for an outcome which might have occurred anyway.

Patrick said...

So what do we do? Clearly, the notion that we should use a residency requirement to lower the city's unemployment rate is ridiculous. Nearly 150 positions have been eliminated from city government over the last few years, and any change would likely be applied only to new hires—an unlikely application in the current fiscal climate. And Lowell, unique as it is, is not an island unto itself. If a woman from Lawrence employed in Lowell moves to Lowell, what has actually been accomplished with the unemployment rate? Will we now pay more in a state bailout to Lawrence to ease the increased property tax burden left with her departure? We cannot afford such a narrow lense. Neither can we afford public subsidies with dubious benefits. I brought up the idea—not in response to the Sun interview, but many months prior--of drawing up TIF policy guidelines to incentivize a more sustainable kind of economic development and maximize public benefits primarily through private investment. Preference in the guidelines for these agreements can be given to those firms who commit to hiring locally, and more informal encouragement to their retained employees to relocate here. In this sense, the city is not creating a new program, but enhancing the effectiveness of an existing one to produce greater public investment returns.

In the end, however, the desired goal will not be achieved with one simple or simplistic policy, but a complex combination of policies all working in concert with one another to improve the quality of life here in the city, in a way that fully taps into the talent of native Lowellians while continuing to attract newcomers who wish to live and work here and further contribute to that rising quality of life.

all the best,
cc murph

C R Krieger said...

I think we should start at the top and let it be an example.  The City Manager should be expected to live in Lowell.

When I was in fourth grade the prettiest, smartest, best girl I ever knew (until I met my wife) had to leave town because her Father had become City Manager of Philadelphia.  That sent a strong signal that still resonates with me today, almost six decades later.

Let the City Manager move and it will set a tone for the others.

Regards  —  Cliff

PS:  I liked the Luke quote.  Classy.  Very British.

The New Englander said...

All points well-taken. I wonder if there could be a middle ground in which ALL people could benefit from a proposed subsidy (in other words, if you already lived here, you'd get some equivalent benefit). Still, the fact is, as you say, public spending doesn't come from a bottomless pit. If the money for a public subsidy isn't there in the first place, the point is moot.

The point about how the city ought to sell itself reminds me of the Groucho Marx bit about how "I wouldn't want to be part of any club that would have me as a member." Groucho might esp. not want to join a club that would PAY him to be a member, but I still think incentives can sometimes have a big impact...even a small incentive can have a psychological boost on someone trying to decide between different job offers, schools, or places to live (even if it's not rational in the big picture).