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Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012 04:35 pm

Springfield will thrive without residency rule

On Nov. 6, the voters in the corporate boundaries of Springfield will have an opportunity to vote on a residency referendum. The choice before them is clear. Do we continue to grow Springfield by using progressive leadership to expand our reach within the region, or do we adopt a regressive policy from our past that seeks to narrow our community?

On its surface, residency is an issue that appeals to the passions of taxpayers and citizens by using an argument along the lines of “it’s our jobs / tax dollars / community at stake.”  Supporters of a residency requirement hope to take advantage of these passions to get their misguided policy adopted. When you look at the facts of residency instead of the rhetoric, you realize that a residency requirement is a distraction that doesn’t help to solve Springfield’s problems.

Supporters of residency will tell you that more than 500 jobs have left our city. According to data provided by the City of Springfield on Sept. 12, there are 1,500 employees with 523 outside the corporate boundary of Springfield. When you expand to the area outside of the corporate boundary, you find that 99 more employees have a Springfield address. More than 70 percent of City of Springfield employees have a Springfield address, and more than 93 percent of them live within Sangamon County. These employees shop at Springfield stores, eat at our restaurants, support our arts community and contribute to our tax base.

Others believe that the lack of a residency requirement has hurt the tax base. The truth is property tax revenue has increased 40 percent since residency was repealed, going from $14.75 million to $20.65 million. Sales tax revenue has gone from $33.8 million to $56.4 million in that same time, showing a far greater impact than property tax when it comes to the City of Springfield finances.

Our stores and sales tax revenue depend on a thriving culture of commuter traffic. Word-of-mouth advertising spread by these workers to nearby communities is invaluable to our local business owners. Residency would harm this culture, our businesses and lower tax revenue brought into the city from the surrounding area.  

Another misinformation tactic used by residency supporters is to treat every job as if it were funded by tax dollars. CWLP, with 648 employees, is not funded by taxpayers; it is funded from utility revenue. CWLP sells electricity and water to the surrounding communities, sells wholesale energy throughout the Midwest including  wind energy in Iowa, and has infrastructure throughout Sangamon County. CWLP has realized increased revenues by not limiting itself to the corporate boundary of Springfield. This has resulted in higher PILOT payments to the City of Springfield, helping keep taxes low.

CWLP also depends on a highly technical and skilled workforce to keep that revenue coming in. CWLP has to compete with private and public utilities to find these individuals. According to the American Public Power Association, “The loss of critical knowledge and the inability to find replacements with utility-specific skills are the two biggest challenges facing public power utilities as a result of workforce aging.” The companies that compete with CWLP for employees are not burdened with a residency requirement as restrictive as the one CWLP is facing under this ordinance. This puts CWLP at a disadvantage in recruitment of employees with those industry-specific skillsets.

Supporters will argue that we can find qualified individuals in Springfield for jobs.  As a taxpayer, ratepayer and citizen, I don’t want an employee that is simply “qualified” and hired based on where they live. I want the best person for the job. I want the best return on the invested salary, and all citizens of Springfield should demand the same thing by rejecting this residency requirement. To those who simply want someone that is qualified, I would point out Rod Blagojevich was “qualified” to be governor.

Some community activists believe that a residency requirement would help grow and strengthen our community. I write this piece as proof that the City of Springfield can grow stronger without the residency requirement.  I was hired in 2004 as an engineering technician for CWLP while living in Loami. After commuting for a year and seeing what the city had to offer, I bought a home and have been a resident in the corporate boundary for more than seven years now.  Rather than resorting to forced relocation in an attempt to bolster our community, we should work to further improve Springfield so that more people want to move here.

The residency requirement existed from 1976-2000. The City of Springfield existed for 136 years prior to the requirement, and has continued to improve in the 12 years since its repeal.  On Nov. 6 please join me in leaving residency back in the past where it belongs and vote no on the referendum.

Josh Witkowski of Springfield is an engineering technician at CWLP. He has been active with several community and political groups engaging in local civic issues for the past 10 years. His opinion here is not the opinion of CWLP, its management or the City of Springfield. Contact him at josh.witkowski@comcast.net.

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