New Hope city employees could get an extra bonus next year, but first they have to pack up their belongings and move there.
The City Council is considering a plan Monday that could give up to $1,650 to employees who relocate to the city in 2008.
Some city officials hope the incentive will help raise the number of New Hope-dwelling employees -- currently eight of 87 full-time employees. No part-time employees live in the city.
The goal isn't new; several Minnesota cities have tried residency requirements. But after 1999, when the state Legislature outlawed such requirements for city and county employees, most cities have given up on persuading their employees to move to the city where they work.
New Hope's one-year trial of the plan could be a novel way to persuade workers to relocate.
However, some officials have questioned whether the program will work.
Mayor Martin Opem has proposed the idea several times after hearing from residents who say they believe city employees would be more invested in the city if they lived there.
"Having your home in the community anchors you here and keeps you focused on protecting your number-one asset, your home," he said.
Laura Kushner, director of human resources and benefits for the League of Minnesota Cities, talked to New Hope officials about their proposal. While the league doesn't keep track of cities that offer residency incentives, she said she doesn't think there are any other cities in the state doing anything similar.
Kushner encouraged New Hope officials to consider several factors as they worked on drafting a plan. The initial proposal included awarding hiring preference points to prospective employees who live in the city, but that was taken out after concerns were raised about the program affecting equal employment opportunities. The revised plan also includes employees who rent as well as own homes.
New Hope is setting aside $10,000 for the program in its 2008 budget, but Kushner said there are state regulations about how city money can be spent.
"They need to make sure they identify what is the public purpose associated with this," she said.
Opem says he believes that employees who live in the city also would help raise New Hope's average income, which in turn would help draw more shops and businesses.
Council Member Dan Stauner said he hasn't made up his mind about the program. While he isn't opposed to trying it for a year, he said he doesn't think employees who live outside of New Hope are less invested in the city's success.
"Anybody who works for the city has a stake in the city too," Stauner said. "It's their livelihood."
He also questioned whether the money being offered would be enough of an incentive for employees to move.
Officials from other cities said they understood New Hope's desire to have its employees live in the city, but they will wait to see how New Hope's plan works before considering one of their own. In Brooklyn Center, 99 part-time employees and 24 full-time employees live in the city. There are between 180 to 250 part-time employees, depending on the season, and 150 full-time.
"There are lots of ways you can have ties to the community," said Vickie Schleuning, Brooklyn Center's assistant to the city manager. "We have employees who grew up here or volunteer here."
Columbia Heights' city manager, Walter Fehst, said city officials considered an incentive for police officers years ago but decided against it. He estimated that about one-fourth of the city's employees live in Columbia Heights.
"My thought would be to make it such a hot spot to live in that they don't want to live anywhere else," he said.
Lora Pabst • 612-673-4628