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Commission eyes change to employee residency requirement

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A possible change to residency requirements for some city of Hays employees was discussed at Thursday’s Hays City Commission work session.

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A possible change to residency requirements for some city of Hays employees was discussed at Thursday’s Hays City Commission work session.

City staff has suggested moving from distance requirements to a response-time model, which would widen the applicant pool for certain positions. Employee recruitment and retention has been particularly challenging in the public safety field, Assistant City Manager Jacob Wood said.

“We feel like if we open this up a little bit, we’ll have a larger applicant pool,” Wood said.

“It would bring Hays in line with some other communities that are doing this currently.”

The change also could help with retention, as some employees have left because they desired to live in smaller, nearby communities.

The proposal discussed Thursday would give the city manager authority to determine residency qualifications on an as-needed basis, looking at response times rather than distance when hiring employees for all departments.

Some commissioners expressed concern that language was too broad, and suggested the change apply only to public safety — and in particular the Hays Police Department and the dispatch center, both of which have struggled with recruitment.

“We don’t have the ability to hire and fire employees, and we don’t want that,” Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV said.

“We hire and fire the city manager. However, we do have oversight as to policy, and I want to be part of that policy. I would not vote for this, because it abdicates our power — the only power that we have — to a single person.”

It was suggested public safety candidates could live within a 30-minute response time, which could allow someone to live as far away as Russell. Public safety employees currently are required to live within city limits or the 3-mile planning boundary.

The police department, on average, operates with three vacant positions, while the communications center usually has one, Wood said.

As suggested by city commissioners Thursday, the requirements would remain unchanged for other employees. Most city employees in other departments are allowed to live within Ellis County. Department directors and managers must live within Hays city limits.

Commissioner Lance Jones spoke strongly in favor of relaxing residency requirements for police and dispatch employees, noting he had intended to bring the issue forth if it had not surfaced before the end of his term.

“I’m definitely for this. I think that it’s been a long time coming,” Jones said. “City employees have come to me (about this issue).”

The matter will be voted on at next week’s regular business meeting.

Other items discussed Thursday include:

• A re-design of the carbon dioxide feed system at the city’s water treatment plant.

• A trench-less sewer line repair on Main Street from Ninth to 10th streets.

• Award of bid to extend Ninth Street in the Heart of America Second Addition.

• A design contract for reconstruction of Allen Street from Eighth to Vine, which is scheduled to be completed next year.

• Award of bid, grant application and construction/engineering for reconstruction of Taxiway India at Hays Regional Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration would pay 90 percent of costs.

Adoption of the 2015 international building code, residential code, fire code, existing building code and property maintenance code, and the 2014 national electric code.

• Mayor Shaun Musil was absent.