EDITORIAL: Rethink government employee residency requirements

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PHOTOGRAPHER:

What’s more important to the taxpayers of a community – having a government employee who lives within the borders of that community, or ensuring the presence of qualified employees and fully staffed departments to do the jobs community residents need done?

We suspect many citizens would rather have the latter.

That will be the litmus test for local governments, including the city of Schenectady and other nearby communities, as they try to fill vital government positions in a tight job market where skilled, specialized government workers are sometimes difficult to find.

Should they suspend or modify their residency requirements to fill open positions, or should they hold out and only accept employees who currently live in or who promise to shortly move into their communities?

Is it better to leave a position open for a building inspector or a codes officer or planning official or engineer until the community can find someone who’s willing to move to the city? Or is it better to hire the best available candidates when they become available and forego the requirement that they live within the community’s boundaries?

There are legitimate reasons why communities put residency requirements for their employees in place years ago.

If a government worker lives in a community, that person is more likely to be invested in the community, contributing to the local economy, shopping at stores, sending their kids to local schools.

Workers who pay taxes into their own government and are affected directly by the actions of that government they’re more likely to commit to doing a better job, the reasoning goes.

and if they live close by, they can respond quicker should they need to be called in on an emergency basis.

All good reasons.

But times have changed.

First, let’s challenge the notion that local workers make better workers.

In today’s mobile society, with people used to changing jobs more frequently than in the past or working remotely from home, how much does an employee’s place of residence really impact the quality of that individual’s commitment to a job and performance of it?

Another factor: No longer is there necessarily a sole bread-winner in a family, meaning a spouses might have equally important jobs in different communities. Who has to move if a residency requirement is in place?

If an applicant has a home within commuting distance, is it fair to ask that prospective employee to uproot his or her family and force their kids to change schools to satisfy an ambiguous model of employee loyalty?

And with housing costs being what they are, moving is not only an inconvenient proposition, but an expensive one.

Most importantly, communities are in intense competition for certain employees, and a residency requirement could be the deciding factor between whether that applicant choses your community or another nearby.

While residency might be a desired trait for an employee, requiring it may no longer be in the best interests of the community, the employees themselves, or taxpayers.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion, Opinion

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