SCHENECTADY — The Schenectady City Council is weighing ending a residency requirement for city employees in an effort to fill dozens of vacant positions.
Council President Marion Porterfield, during a meeting of the Government Operations Committee on Tuesday, raised potentially altering the requirement to include all of Schenectady County instead of just the city — a move she said could help attract additional qualified candidates.
“It’s something that has been brought to me numerous times and I think it’s something that we should discuss if we’re serious about being able to employ the people we want to employ,” she said.
Porterfield noted that a number of neighboring municipalities, including Schenectady County, have moved away from a residency requirement in recent years in an effort to attract qualified candidates.
City Code currently requires all employees to either live in the city or relocate within six months of their start date, except for police officers. Firefighters must live in or move to Schenectady County within six months of their employment and must maintain a residency in the county for the term of their employment, according to the law.
“The City Council hereby determines that individuals who are employees of the City of Schenectady take a greater interest, commitment and involvement with the government which employs them by living within the municipality,” reads the current code, adopted in 1988.
The city is currently looking to fill around 30 positions across various departments, including planning and code enforcement, but has struggled to attract qualified applicants that meet the residency requirement. The city is also seeking to fill various police and firefighter positions as well.
Mayor Gary McCarthy, who said he is in favor of keeping the requirement, said the city routinely receives applications from individuals living outside city limits and that he has exempt certain positions from the residency requirement on few occasions in the past.
Under the current law, the mayor is allowed to exempt certain employees from the requirement with the consent of a Board of Residency — a five-member board made up with appointments from the mayor, corporation counsel and the City Council.
Exceptions include jobs that require a “degree of specialization and professionalism” or the existence of a hardship determined by the board.
“It’s been done in the past on a case-by-case basis,” McCarthy said.
Councilman John Mootooveren suggested the city begin using the process more regularly in order to fill the vacancies.
But, Councilman Carl Williams said he was in favor of ending the requirement in order to bolster the city’s workforce, noting that the vacant positions are putting a strain on employees, which could impact performance.
“I don’t know how you can routinely expect them to perform to the highest degree when they’re that understaffed,” Williams said. “I do recommend temporarily suspending it, at least until we can get our departments fully staffed or we can identify departments that are in critical standing and get them to a standpoint where they are functional.”
Anthony Ferrari, the city’s director of finance, said ending the requirement would allow the city to “cast a bigger net” when seeking to fill positions, noting that qualified candidates have been turned down because they did not want to move to the city.
He added that ending the requirement may encourage people to move to the city.
“I also believe that people who are not living in the city and start working in the city and see all that we have to offer, they will eventually move in,” Ferrari said.
But others on the council expressed hesitation about ending the requirement, including Doreen Ditoro, who raised concerns about the impact altering the law would have on the city moving forward, noting employers throughout the country are struggling to fill positions.
“What would that do to our schools and our community? Would we just be a destination to come and work and then everybody leaves after work?” Ditoro said. “I don’t know. I don’t agree with it but I think we’re in a position that everyone across America is in.”
A recent report by the U.S. Department of Labor found that there were 11.4 million job openings as of April. Filling the positions has proven difficult due to a tight labor market.
In New York, the state’s Department of Labor estimated there were just under 594,000 job openings across the state at the end of March.
But the department found that there were more jobs available than unemployed workers. As of March, there were just 0.7 workers available per job, down from 1.9 workers available per job a year earlier.
Council members John Polimeni and Carmel Patrick suggested possibly offering an incentive for workers to live in the city, and suggested offering workers who choose to live in the city incentives such as a higher rate of pay.
“There needs to be an incentive to move here and be part of our community,” Polimeni said. “That gets the umbrella wider, but it also gets the playing ground at an even keel for workers who are in our city and are dedicated.”
McCarthy, meanwhile, said the city is working to develop ways to attract employees, which he believes will pay off in the long term, but noted the city is in the same position as the rest of the nation in the interim.
“It’s a national phenomenon,” he said.
The City Council is expected to revisit the topic again during its next committee meeting in two weeks.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.