LACONIA —City Manager Scott Myers said the public does not – under New Hampshire’s open records law – have the right to know how many Laconia city employees live in the city.
The issue of residency – which is not required of city employees – arose recently during a City Council discussion about the Fire Department budget.
In the course of that discussion, Councilor Bob Hamel said that only five firefighters in the 40-member department live in the city.
He said employees who live in the city have “skin in the game,” or are more closely affected by what goes on here. They also pay local property taxes.
Given that only about 12 percent of firefighters live in the city, does the same percentage hold true across the rest of the full-time municipal workforce of more than 200?
Myers said the public does not have the right to know that information under New Hampshire’s Right-To-Know Law, which does not require a city, town, school district or other public agency to create a record where none exists.
Myers said he does not have a report on where Laconia employees live. Their addresses are in their personnel files, which are not public.
Hamel’s opinion is that most city employees don’t live in the city.
“Well, there are not many who live here, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “I think the majority of the police department doesn’t live here.
“It would be nice if these people who work here lived here, absolutely, paying taxes and helping support the city.
“I think it does matter. You contribute and support the town you live in, not just work here or spending a few hours here doing this or that.”
Hamel said he would like to look into requiring department heads to live in the city.
Local residency is not currently a requirement for employment by the city.
Former City Councilor Brenda Baer said many city employees are paid enough to afford a home in the city.
“Everybody is making a pretty good wage, police, fire, schools, plus they get benefits,” she said. “They are definitely middle class.
“This would help the tax base. Also, when people are living here, it makes them think what they can do for the city, rather than just be someone picking up a paycheck.”
She also said she thinks the hometowns of municipal workers should be released to the public.
In order for a city worker to live locally, the worker would be faced with the sometimes-difficult job of finding an affordable home.
Much new construction has focused on creating more expensive homes with views of the water – homes that tend to have higher profit margins for builders.
City leaders have been trying to foster more residential development affordable for workers, and recent revisions to the city’s Master Plan are aimed at making it easier to develop new neighborhoods.
Initial proposals for the former Laconia State School property have strong residential components that could boost the economy by attracting companies and workers.
From his standpoint, Myers, the city manager, said there are valid reasons why a municipal employee might not live in Laconia.
“If someone is established in a neighboring community and takes an open position with us and has kids in school and it’s within a reasonable distance they feel for commuting to work, they are more than likely going to stay in the community they already live in,” he said. “Just like there are folks who live in Laconia who work in neighboring municipalities and for whatever reason they are already entrenched here.”
City Councilor Andrew Hosmer said a city employee’s town of residence shouldn’t affect job performance.
“They are stakeholders anyway; they are professional people,” he said. “I’m not sure I’m ready to make that leap that simply because you live in the city, you’re going to be a more committed firefighter, DPW worker or police officer. That’s a tad bit presumptuous and not a presumption I’m willing to make.”
On the other hand, the length of commute could make a difference.
“We certainly don’t want our workforce outsourced to Maine or Vermont, that would be a problem,” Hosmer said.