Fulton County drops residency requirement, again

Fulton County Office Building

JOHNSTOWN — For the second time in the last two months the Fulton County Board of Supervisors has voted to approve waiving the in-county residency requirement for some county positions — opening up eligibility for the jobs to residents of contiguous border counties.

In September, the board waived the Fulton County residency requirement for caseworkers for four of its $15.25-per-hour to $20.14 per-hour, after one year, positions — caseworker and social welfare examiner for the Dept. of Social Services [DSS], account clerk/typists, typists and senior typists — and at the Board’s October meeting it waived the requirement for two higher paying jobs: automotive mechanic (starting wage $18.47 per-hour, then $22.49 per-hour after 1 year) and registered nurse (starting rate as of 2019, $24.42 per-hour and then $28.73 per hour after one year).

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Fulton County Personnel Director Terri Souza said the county had 43 job-vacancies throughout all of its departments in September, but since then the county has filled 9 of those jobs, but 34 still remain unfilled.

“So, we’re filling them, but as far as recruitment, we’re having a really hard time finding people to take [to take] exams, to take positions that don’t require exams — we’re just in a really hard position right now,” Souza said.

The residency waiver comes at a time when the New York state Dept. of Labor’s August unemployment report showed Fulton County had an unemployment rate of 5.9%, slightly better than neighboring Montgomery County at 6.1%, and a little worse than Saratoga County at 4%. Fulton County had the 10th highest unemployment rate among the 62 counties in New York state, but only has a little less than half the unemployment rate of Bronx County, 13.4%, the highest of any county in the state.

Unemployment numbers, however, do not account for a dearth in skilled or credentialed professionals like registered nurses. Nathan Littauer Hospital recently began advertising $15,000 bonuses for newly hired full-time registered nurses and $7,500 bonuses for newly hired part-time nurses.

Souza, who has served as director of county personnel since 2007, said recruitment for county-jobs, which often require civil service exams, has become steadily more difficult in recent years, requiring her to periodically request the Fulton County Board of Supervisors to waive the Fulton County residency requirement, opening up the jobs to residents in bordering counties.

“Even when I first became director, take a typist [civil service] exam for example — which is our entry-level clerical position — it was very common for us to test 50 to 60 people for one exam, now we’re getting seven, 10 maybe,” she said. “For our [DSS] caseworkers, we’ve had multiple caseworker vacancies. We held the exam, and we ended up with four on the caseworker list and we had more vacancies, right out of the gate, than we had people who took the exam! Caseworker is an exam we can hold anytime we need to, so we’re going to hold it again, but some of them are state scheduled, so we’re at the mercy of the state.”

Johnstown 2nd Ward Supervisor Michael Kinowski, who serves as the county personnel committee chairman, sponsored the resolution to waive the residency requirements both for the October meeting of the board and in September. He said since the coronavirus pandemic it has been very difficult to get people to work.

“There’s just a short supply of people who are willing to work,” he said. “If you look at DSS right now, I talked to a woman [recently] who got a promotion, but because there’s nobody in the department, or very few, normally there’s seven and they’re down to two, so she’s working part-time in both her old position and her new position. She’s got to work both jobs.”

A common refrain among residents in Fulton County has been that enhanced federal unemployment benefits have disincentivized work for many who might otherwise apply for lower paying jobs, but pandemic unemployment benefits ended in New York state in September, including the $300 additional weekly supplement and eligibility for part-time and self employed workers.

What hasn’t ended in Fulton County has been its persistently high rate of transfer of COVID-19 over the past two months. As of Wednesday, Fulton County was tied for 6th highest 7-day average COVID-19 positivity percentage among New York state’s 62-counties at 7.1%, the same as Jefferson County, a little more than three times the New York state 62-county average positivity rate at 2.3%. The worst five counties for 7-day average COVID-19 positivity were: Yates (10.9% positivity), Cattaraugus (9.9% positivity), Oswego (8.6% positivity), Lewis (8.2% positivity) and Chemung (7.3% positivity).

“Since COVID, we’ve really seen the numbers drop off,” Souza said about county job candidates. “This is a statewide problem, all of the numbers for [county public servant] jobs are down all across the state.”

Souza said state law mandates some county jobs, like sheriff’s deputies, always be made available to residents to contiguous counties. She said the residency requirement waiver only lasts until after the next civil service exam, for positions that require them, and then defaults back to the original rule, until she asks for it be waived again. She said waiving the residency requirement is not always enough to attract job candidates.

“Honestly, I don’t think it’s making a huge difference. Montgomery County, Hamilton, Herkimer — they’re all having the same problems,” she said. “I think it’s helping us find a few, but it’s not a magical cure.”

Souza said Fulton County is offering a DSS caseworker civil service exam on Dec. 11, and the last date to signup for the test is Nov. 9.

According to the information listed on the employment tab of the fultoncountyny.gov website, a starting Fulton County caseworker for the Dept. of Social Services and Office for the aging will be paid $16.83 per-hour, which increases to $19.80 per hour after one-year of benefits eligible service.

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By Jason Subik

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