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Residency Requirements

Spiritual Stew

Residency Requirements

I was thinking of signing up for the Niskayuna pool and noticed the different prices depending on where you lived. Permanent residents got a break and it seemed to make sense since they were the ones paying for the pool in property taxes and such. It caused me to reflect on some of the things that Andy Chestnut said at a Schenectady school board meeting last month. He was touting residency for teachers, which, at first glance seems a bit parochial (literally), but, on reflection makes more and more sense.

Residency requirements have long been a topic of political consideration and apply to civil servants of all kinds. The city and county are constantly wrestling with this issue in regards to police, fire, and administration positions. Union college has long had a house on campus for the President. Being elected to most legislative positions requires being a resident where the people you represent live and if you are caught really living someplace else, headlines ensue.

In my particular profession, it is understood that a pastor will live in the area of the people they serve.  Within a few miles at the most. In the old days, every church had a manse where the pastor lived which was usually right next to the church. Property tax exemptions even used that criteria for figuring out the legitimacy of the exemption in some jurisdictions. I have spent many years living right next to the church and have come to understand the need for folks to be able to understand that you are sharing their life with them.

Besides the intangible, informal, and incidental influence of just being in the same stores and going to the same civic events, the financial aspects are not insignificant.  The sales, property, and income tax that an employee pays brings perhaps as much as 20% of their salary back to the community if they live there. That has a way of making people take the business of life together more seriously. When this is multiplied by policies that affect dozens of people, the effect is dramatic.

We always want the best people in community positions, but sometimes “best” means a level of commitment that takes the long view. People who live with us understand the larger issues that face the community first hand. This may mean a B+ candidate is actually better in the long run, especially because of the stress caused by leaving an organization sooner because another place beckons.

It gets tricky when the geographic area is small or blighted in some fashion, but that is not the case for localities in the capital region. What we need, especially in Schenectady, is more people. This is a way to help make that happen.

My green friends will also point out the impact on the environment when folks commute distances without the benefit of public transportation. It is to be understood that people will not spend their whole lives in any one place usually. But it is a valuable and tangible sign of some sort of commitment when someone says, “I'm not sure what the future holds, but right now I am here with you as much as I can be.”

This means more than just requiring this for certain positions, especially leadership positions. It means taking steps to help that happen. It means helping partners get placements. It could mean tax breaks (we certainly give them to companies). It could mean helping with housing in some way that is advantageous to all.

Perhaps a little start would be an easy legislative hurdle. Certainly requiring New York State primary residency for civic employees is a reasonable step and would be a movement in the right direction.