Report Shows 45% of County Employees Live Outside Montgomery
Findings revive discussions over need for affordable ‘workforce housing’
Almost half of Montgomery County government’s 9,000-plus employees live outside the county, according to a new personnel management report.
The numbers haven’t changed dramatically from four years ago, when 43.2% of employees lived outside the county. According to the latest report, 4,159 of 9,243 permanent employees – 45% – lived either in a different Maryland county a neighboring state.
While County Council President Nancy Navarro said the statistics aren’t new, they are concerning nonetheless and underscore sustained concerns over the lack of affordable housing.
“This is precisely why it is important that we approved $65 million to the Housing Initiative Fund,” she said, referring to the council’s approval last month of a budget that boosts the fund, which is a more than 30-year old dedicated fund to the construction of new affordable housing in the county.
Navarro said the statistics demand more solutions to building affordable housing, such as workforce housing.
“I personally have also approached the executive at different times to take advantage of land,” she said. “This continues to be a concern for all of us. It’s an ongoing challenge.”
The statistics, which exclude temporary and seasonal workers, indicate many workers face daily commutes of more than an hour one way.
Frederick County, Montgomery’s neighbor to the northwest, was home for 1,259 employees, the most of any other non-Montgomery jurisdictions. There were 761 workers living in Prince George’s County; 275 in Howard; 262 in Washington County; and 250 in Carroll.
Additionally, there were 233 employees living in Pennsylvania, 184 in Virginia, 134 in West Virginia and 21 in other states according to the report.
A budget calculator from the Washington-based nonprofit Economic Policy Institute estimates a family of four in Montgomery County needs a $104,000 annual household income while in Frederick County, the same size family requires $94,000 a year to pay for everything from housing to food, clothing and transportation. Farther out, the cost is $88,000 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, which is the westernmost stop on the MARC commuter train’s Brunswick Line that runs through Montgomery County on its way into the District.
Other than for elected officials, there is no requirement that any government employees live within the county or the state, according to Neil Greenberger, a county spokesman. County Council members elected by district are required to live in the district they represent.
Greenberger said the personnel report helps the county government determine how to meet the needs of employees who telecommute.
“If really good employees choose live farther away from their job site, it’s good to know what we can do to keep them [employed by the county],” he said.
Greenberger said some employees naturally choose to live farther due to the lower cost-of-living in other jurisdictions. Many employees, he said, work nine-hour days instead of a traditional eight hours, and take one day off a week.
“If you drive an hour-and-a-half each day, that one day makes a difference,” he said.
Greenberger added that firefighters and police officers work odd shifts compared to the traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. window, which means that those who commute farther often don’t have to do so during rush hour.
In 2017, Gov. Larry Hogan signed legislation that can require a supervisory at-will employee of a local government in Maryland to either live within the jurisdiction, or within a certain distance from it.
According to the Maryland Association of Counties, a nonprofit that advocates for local governments, some counties have stricter residency requirements for non-elected positions such as county administrator or department heads.
“MACo reports that Caroline County requires the county administrator, the public information officer, and all department directors to reside within the county. Garrett and Kent counties also require the county administrator to live within their respective county,” wrote MACo Research Director Robin Eilenberg in an email.
Caroline, a county of 33,000 on the Eastern Shore, has a three-member board of commissioners that makes all decisions in the county government, including hiring decisions.
Caroline County’s Chief of Staff Sara Visintainer said that there is no set policy for top-level department heads to live in the county, but contract and at-will employees are often required to do so if moving from a far location.
“When we’re hiring a county administrator and we’re doing recruitment and hiring someone from Pennsylvania, we would expect them to move and make their life here in Caroline County.”
Visintainer added that some positions, such as the chief corrections officer or public works director, are more critical than others, such as the parks and recreation director. The more important positions, she said, carry stricter requirements about living in the county.
“It’s going to be hard to do a director position if you’re commuting a long distance,” she said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org