Thoughts On Syracuse’s Residency Requirement

In the city of Syracuse, if you want a city job, you need to live within the boundaries of the city.

Well, except if you are a cop, firefighter, teacher or sanitation worker–these workers are exempt from all residency requirements by state law. Also, you could ask the city to give you a personal waiver from the requirement due to extenuating circumstances.

The residency requirement has been in the news lately because the current administration is planning to strictly enforce the law, threatening those living outside the city with the loss of their job.

City workers and their union have two complaints about the enforcement of the residency requirement. 1) Since all workers aren’t bound by the requirement, it is unfair to enforce the law on those not in the automatically exempt professions. 2) The city has been inconsistent in granting waiver requests in the past, so it is unfair to start applying the law consistently now.

The workers have lost both arguments in court, so the city is going ahead with its plans, denying all 22 waiver requests it received last month and asking everyone to verify their city residence. The current administration argues that the city’s residents voted solidly to enforce the residency requirement when it was put to a public referendum in 1990. It also points out that the city is hard pressed to meet its contractual obligations with its unionized workforce due to the city’s rapidly shrinking population (and tax base).

I am a strong supporter of the residency requirement. I wish all city employees were required to live in the city. Think of the benefit to our city if all 7,000 families with public sector jobs lived in the city, all of whom with well-paid, unionized jobs.

The problem, as I see it, is the fact that most of the families who fled to the suburbs did so because of the perceived low quality and safety of the city school district. This view is undoubtedly fueled by race. Crudely put, white families don’t want their kids to go to school with black kids.

However, the reality is somewhat different. Is your child getting a better education if they are taking the challenging International Baccalaureate curriculum at Corcoran or by drifting through a mediocre high school with horrible standardized test scores, like those in Cicero-North Syracuse?

The city is right to pursue all avenues to try to bring police, fire and sanitation workers back to the city, as well. Some intermediary actions we can take may involve linking promotions to residency. In the meantime, my response to everyone is: what’s so freaking onerous about living in the city? I’ve lived in both the suburbs and the city–I am infinitely more comfortable in the city.

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