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Keokuk council debating change to city worker residency rule

Keokuk City Hall-Will Buss.jpg
Will Buss

A proposed ordinance would allow Keokuk city employees to live in western Illinois and northeastern Missouri as long as they remain within 10 miles of town.

Currently, city workers are required to live within 10 miles of town and within Lee County.

City Administrator Cole O’Donnell said they’ve struggled to attract workers for the city’s civil service jobs. He said expanding the residency requirement might change that.

“We used to advertise, and we used to have 15, 20, 25 people lined up, and you could pick the best one out of all of them. Now, I can tell you that if we advertise for a job, we’re lucky if we get five,” O’Donnell said.

The city currently has three openings on the police department but has heard from few qualified applicants.

Police Chief David Hinton said he has mixed feelings about the proposed change.

“I’m a hometown person. I would prefer that everyone live within the city limits. That’s where I live,” Hinton said. But he acknowledged that other communities are expanding their residency requirements to attract more job applicants.

“What we’ve recognized is that to be competitive with other cities and counties, they are experiencing the same thing we are, right? So, they’re expanding their residency requirements.”

City Council members narrowly approved the second reading of the ordinance, five to four, during its June 16 meeting.

Council Member At Large Daniel Winn voted against the motion. He said allowing city workers to live out of town takes residents and investment away from Keokuk.

“I have a problem with that,” Winn said. “I understand that we have problems filling vacancies, but I think you have to have some skin in the game and live in Keokuk.”

Council member at large John Helenthal responded, “Where are we going to find employees if we don’t think outside the box?”

Helenthal and Third Ward Alderwoman Roslyn Garcia said they support the ordinance because people who live in neighboring communities drive to Keokuk to shop and eat in town.

“If they’re working in this town, they’re patronizing this town,” Helenthal said.

Garcia said she knows people who live in neighboring Hamilton, Illinois who cross the Mississippi River to shop in Keokuk. She said if they work in town, they should be able to live out of town.

“I think it’s about being progressive,” Garcia said.

The Council is scheduled to hold a third and final reading for the proposed residency expansion ordinance on July 7.

The Council might also elect to create additional limitations to the ordinance during its meeting on July 21.

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