SCHENECTADY — Following weeks of debate, the City Council on Monday voted to expand the boundaries of a residency requirement for employment — but additional changes to the law could still be on the way.
In a 5-2 vote, lawmakers approved legislation expanding the city’s employee residency requirement to include all of Schenectady County. The change comes as the city continues to struggle filling vacant positions, leaving some departments short staffed and workers overburdened.
Council members Doreen Ditoro and John Polimeni voted against the proposal.
Polimeni said the amended law “really doesn’t make much sense” and argued that if the council wanted to open the application process for employment, the residency requirement should be eliminated entirely.
He said lawmakers should look into creating a pay differential that would reward workers who live in the city a higher wage. Details on such a differential remain unclear and would need to be approved by the various unions representing city workers through the collective bargaining process.
“If we want to open up the process, if we want to open up the applications, we should truly open it up to anyone,” Polimeni said.
Council President Marion Porterfield said she doesn’t support expanding the requirement beyond the county at this point, but acknowledged the doing so was the council’s first step in addressing workforce shortages.
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“When we came here, we committed to making decisions with people and not for them,” she said. “We’re making this decision with the staff to help them get additional staff.”
The city’s residency requirement dates back to 1988 and was created because it was believed at the time that workers who live in the city are more invested in the community.
Limited exceptions were allowed under the law for those who could demonstrate a hardship or for positions that required a certain degree of specialization, but only after being approved by a five-member board of residency.
By expanding the borders for the requirement, the city is hoping to attract new candidates that have not applied for positions in the past because they did not want to relocate. In the past, several qualified candidates turned down positions because they did not want to move.
The city’s struggle to find qualified workers mirrors those seen by other municipalities and businesses throughout the region, and are brought on by a tight labor market amid low unemployment rates.
A number of city positions are currently open, including school crossing guards, equipment operators and several openings in the code enforcement office.
Schenectady County has previously eliminated its own residency requirement, and Albany County suspended its requirement for two years last month.
Councilwoman Carmel Patrick said she believes that workers who live in the city will have pride in the community, but believes altering the requirement was necessary in order to bolster the city’s workforce.
She said the lawmakers should examine creating a pay differential and that the residency requirement should be revisited in the future if it is determined that additional changes need to be made.
“I feel very strongly that folks living in the city will have ownership and pride in our city, and I think it’s very important,” Patrick said. “At the same time, I recognize the need to be expanding our workforce.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.