Assessor Tina Dimitriadis may have the law on her side when it comes to whether she must live in Schenectady, but she’s fighting a losing battle.
Like Dimitriadis, many assessors throughout the state have been ordered to move into their employer’s municipality due to residency laws. Those who didn’t move lost their jobs, said Thomas Frey, executive director of the state Assessors Association.
Their bosses usually avoided the potential legal issues by waiting until their contract expired and hiring someone else, Frey added.
“Every now and then it pops up,” he said. “Usually it kind of gets extended until contract time and then the council can appoint whoever they want.”
But state officials said the law is clear: Local residency laws don’t apply to assessors.
“The only residency requirement for assessors under the Real Property Tax Law is that assessors must be New York state residents,” said Cary Ziter of the state Department of Taxation and Finance. “They don’t need to be residents of the assessing units which they serve.”
Mayor Gary McCarthy told Dimitriadis that if she does not move into the city by September, he will not renew her expiring contract. She has worked for the city for two years at an annual salary of $73,000. She wants to keep her job, but she is caring for her elderly father in Colonie and told McCarthy she would not move here.
McCarthy doesn’t plan to fight state law and fire her now, but he said he thinks state officials are interpreting the law incorrectly. The law that says assessors must only be residents of the state does not supersede local residency laws, he said, because the state law simply says they must live in the state to apply for an assessing job.
“That’s a fundamental requirement, like the city engineer has to have a [professional engineering] license. That doesn’t, in my mind, supersede,” he said.
State law also goes into great detail about which employees are sometimes exempt from local residency laws. It discusses exactly where police, firefighters and sanitation workers may live, but it never mentions assessors among the exemptions.
Dimitriadis wants the residency board to offer her a waiver to the residency law, based on her father’s health, but McCarthy said he can block her petition to the board. According to the residency law, employees can only go to the residency board for a waiver if they get permission from the mayor.
“The mayor starts the process,” he said, adding that he will not recommend her to the board. “That seems to be the power that has been given to me. I believe the assessor should live in the city and believe I will be able to find someone who will live in the city.”
Several qualified people have already sent him their applications, he said, and some of them already live in Schenectady. They are appraisers, which qualifies them for the assessor position.