Schenectady City Council to revisit ARPA funds, residency requirement

Schenectady City Councilman John Polimeni speaks during an Aug. 22 Council meeting.

Schenectady City Councilman John Polimeni speaks during an Aug. 22 Council meeting.

SCHENECTADY — Two weeks after the City Council allocated millions in coronavirus-relief funds and tweaked a residency requirement for employment, lawmakers are set to revisit both topics on Tuesday.

The council’s Finance Committee will discuss how to allocate millions in remaining funds the city received as part of the American Rescue Plan Act after agreeing to spend just over $14 million of the $52.9 million windfall on 11 projects throughout the city in a 6-1 vote last month.

The spending, which leaves the city with around $22 million in ARPA funds still left to allocate, was approved despite criticism from some community leaders who raised concerns about transparency and questioned how lawmakers arrived at the spending total.

None of the documents pertaining to the spending plan were made publicly available for review prior to lawmakers allocating the funds, and the council did not publicly discuss the dozens of applications submitted by community organizations seeking a portion of the ARPA funding.

Recommendations from a citizen advisory committee appointed to help steer the conversation around ARPA funding were also not reviewed publicly.

The opaque process came after months of little discussion about the ARPA funds. Previously, the council agreed to allocate $16 million on youth programming and city initiatives, including recouping lost revenue and bolstering the city workforce.

Several lawmakers have criticized the ARPA process, including John Polimeni, who called it “one of the most screwed up processes” he’s ever been a part of.

Polimeni also blasted the lack of transparency around the allocation of the $14 million, saying all applications should have been publicly reviewed at the same time and accusing his fellow council members of funding projects submitted by their political allies.

Others, including Council President Marion Porterfield, acknowledged the process did not work as intended, but pushed back on claims that the council was not transparent, noting the city held a series of community meetings last year around the funds, collected applications from organizations and appointed a committee to help guide the conversation on how to allocate the ARPA funds.

It’s unclear how much the Finance Committee will decide to allocate, or if there will be a discussion about how to refine the process moving forward.

The city has until Dec. 31, 2024 to allocate the funds, and to the end of 2026 to spend the money.

Meanwhile, the council’s Government Operations Committee will revisit changing the residency requirement for city employment after Mayor Gary McCarthy vetoed legislation that would have expanded the requirement to include all of Schenectady County.

In an Aug. 30 veto memo, McCarthy said the legislation would only “grandfather in” current employees not in compliance with the residency requirement rather “than assist in recruiting qualified candidates for our current openings.”

“I believe the current City Code dealing with residency is good legislation but may need to be more actively employed,” McCarthy wrote.

Under the current code, which dates back to 1988, all employees are required to relocated the the city within six months of their appointment, except for police and firefighters.

Limited exceptions can be made for those with a specialized skill set or individuals that can prove a hardship, but all exceptions must first be approved by a Board of Residency.

The City Council, in a 5-2 vote, agreed to expand the requirement to include all of Schenectady County in the hopes of reaching more qualified employees for the dozens of vacancies that city has been trying to fill.

Schenectady County has eliminated a residency requirement, and Albany County suspended a similar requirement for two years back in July.

Councilwoman Doreen Ditoro joined Polimeni in voting against the legislation.

Polimeni said the change made no sense and that the council should consider eliminating the residency requirement altogether and work towards creating some type of incentive that would award employees that choose to live in the city.

But Porterfield, in a letter of her own, requested McCarthy rescind his veto, noting that the city is faced with 63 openings, while more than two dozen current employees who are not police officers or firefighters currently do not reside within in the city.

She also questioned why the Board of Residency has not been used on a consistent basis and raised concerns about the city’s practice when it comes to filling seasonal positions, which she said could discourage potential candidates from applying for future employment.

“All these positions are vital to the operations of the City of Schenectady, so your reasoning of not wanting to grandfather in current employees who do not reside in the city seems to be without merit,” Porterfield wrote. “Surrounding municipalities do not have this restrictive practice and as a result there are employees who have left employment with the city of Schenectady.”

The City Council will convene for its biweekly committee meetings at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.

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