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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

More than half of 3,000 city workers who moved outside Milwaukee are police and fire staff

By Elliot Hughes, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,


The number of Milwaukee city employees living within the municipality dropped 43% since state action took away residency requirements in 2013.

That translates to nearly 3,000 city workers fleeing for their employer’s suburbs – around half the workforce. And 59% of the exodus comes from sworn members of the police and fire departments, according to a survey conducted by the city’s Fire and Police Commission.

The survey mainly focused on workers who had been living in Milwaukee but left in the first nine years since the requirements dissolved, rather than recent hires who never lived in the city.

More: Milwaukee city workers moved out in droves after the residency rule ended. It was a boon for the suburbs.

The numbers were not a surprise but still no less disappointing to members of the Common Council’s Public Health and Safety Committee, which reviewed the findings Thursday. Ever since residency requirements disappeared, Milwaukee officials have predicted a loss in the tax base that suburbs would gain.

“For someone who is a proponent of public safety, this is very discouraging,” said Ald. Mark Borkowski, whose district has seen the largest exodus of city employees. He called the numbers “embarrassing.”

“Those are good quality residents that are leaving those neighborhoods where everyone else is staying,” he said.

The survey also for the first time polled members of the police and fire departments about why they decided to leave the city, with many citing safety, schools and cost of living as factors.

Here’s what to know about the report:

How many city workers live in Milwaukee now?

Just over 3,700 city employees were living in Milwaukee in July 2022, according to the survey.

Paired against “rough” numbers provided by the city’s Department of Employee Relations on Thursday, that translates to 56% of city workers living in Milwaukee, while just one in three sworn police and fire workers live in the city.

The largest collection of city workers who still lived in Milwaukee as of July 2022 were congregated in two south side aldermanic districts – Borkowski’s and Ald. Scott Spiker’s – where city employees have long settled.

In 2013, those districts were home to more than 2,500 workers. In 2022, that number shrank to just under 1,000.

Union officials have always defended the right of workers to choose where they live, while some elected city officials have used residency to question workers’ commitment to the city they work for.

Both Police Chief Jeffrey Norman and Fire Chief Aaron Lipski live in Milwaukee.

Do city numbers include public school employees?

No. Although Milwaukee Public Schools also had to end its residency requirements, the school district is a separate government entity and not included in the city’s numbers.

What happened to the residency requirement?

For decades, the city required residency in Milwaukee as a condition of employment. That was dismantled in June 2013 by the state Legislature under Gov. Scott Walker and later upheld in a court challenge before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

In 2016, the Common Council passed an ordinance requiring emergency personnel to reside within 15 miles of the city’s boundary . That extends as far north as Saukville, west to Hartland and south to part of Racine.

What reasons do police and fire workers cite for leaving the city?

By far the most cited reason is safety, with 56% of police and 41% of fire department workers citing it as the most important.

In second is schools, cited by 34% of both police and fire department workers.

However, among police and fire workers between the ages of 21 and 25, it was schools and cost of living that tied for the highest score.

“Other” reasons listed by respondents included proximity to a friend or family member or their employment; political leanings; and dissatisfaction with leadership.

Where are police staff moving to?

The report discussed Thursday only showed a heatmap by zip code of where police workers had relocated to.

It showed most appeared to move immediately south of the city into communities such as South Milwaukee, Oak Creek, Greenfield, Greendale, Hales Corners, Franklin and part of Racine County.

Contact Elliot Hughes at or 414-704-8958. Follow him on Twitter @elliothughes12 .

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: More than half of 3,000 city workers who moved outside Milwaukee are police and fire staff

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