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Despite residency laws, Hempstead workers live elsewhere

Signs greet motorists entering the Village of Hempstead

Signs greet motorists entering the Village of Hempstead on Fulton Avenue near Front Street. (March 9, 2010) Photo Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Despite a local law in Hempstead Village that requires its employees to live there, a third of its civilian workforce lives outside the village - the community saddled with the highest unemployment rate on Long Island.

Freeport, where the unemployment rate ranks second, has a residency requirement for municipal employees, too. Yet 18 percent of the village's civilian workforce lives elsewhere.

MAP: Find out where town employees actually live

The two villages aren't the only municipal entities that have laws that require employees to live within their boundaries: Nassau and Suffolk counties do as well.

Proponents of residency requirements argue that employing locals strengthens the tax base, spurs economic development and encourages community involvement, but others point to potential downsides - that such laws could exclude the best candidates or, worse, have a discriminatory effect.

Complicating the employment picture is the exemption the state grants to police officers: They are not required to live in the community where they work.

In Hempstead - the biggest village in the state with some 54,000 residents, according to census figures - 45 percent of the total workforce (206 of 460) live outside the village. But that total includes 125 police officers - and 94 of them live elsewhere. Removing police from the total leaves 335 civilian employees - 33 percent of whom don't live in the village.

And in Freeport, 24 percent of village workers (146 of 602) live elsewhere. There, too, a majority of the police force - 55 of 88 members - don't live in the village. That leaves the percentage of the civilian workforce who live elsewhere at close to 18 percent (91 of 514).

Hempstead Coordinating Council of Civic Associations president Reggie Lucas, who was unaware of the police exemption, called for a change in the exemption policy.

Police salaries and benefits are the village's biggest expense, he said.

"We're paying them the best salary . . . and they're taking it out of the village," he said. "They're spending it on their mortgages and so forth [in their home communities], and in Hempstead they're only spending money for lunch."

 

Enforcement varies

Recent hirings have brought the villages' divergence from their laws into focus.

At a meeting in Freeport in January, resident Susan Lyons, a former village prosecutor and justice, criticized the new administration's hiring of nonresidents to several top posts, including recreation center manager, deputy village attorney and deputy assessor.

"That [law] was brought about to create jobs in a period of rampant unemployment, which is pretty much what we're facing right now," Lyons said. The code was passed in 1978. "I just think the money should stay in town."

At a Hempstead meeting last month, village trustees voted unanimously to waive the residency requirement and hire a Long Beach man for a $36,400 code enforcement job. The position, complaint investigator trainee, requires a civil service exam. No village residents were on the civil service list of candidates, officials said.

In response to a question about how strictly the village could enforce the residency requirement, Mayor Wayne Hall Sr. said that cracking down could cost the village qualified candidates.

Hall said that since he took office in April 2005, some 45 percent of new hires - 52 of 115 workers, including 27 seasonal hires - have been nonresidents. He defended the hirings, including four department heads, saying his top priority has been job qualifications, not residency.

"If we find that there's a person that's more qualified that lives outside the village than a village resident, then I'm going to ask the board to waive that rule," he said. "You hire the best people that can help you make the village a better place."

Freeport Village Attorney Howard Colton said Mayor Andrew Hardwick recently took on the residency issue by asking employees to update their addresses.

"The Hardwick administration is cognizant of the village's residency law and has asked its employees who are covered under the terms of the residency law to certify their addresses," Colton said.

In another village with a residency law, Amityville, 24 of 87 employees live outside village bounds. But with a population of 10,000, officials said, the job pool is too small to find qualified residents for all positions.

About 9.2 percent of Nassau County employees live elsewhere, but a spokesman for County Executive Edward Mangano said he could not specify how many have obtained the required waivers. And in Suffolk, officials say the residency requirement is strictly enforced - but they could not specify how many workers live elsewhere because personnel records aren't sorted by residency.

Suffolk officials say they verify residency before hiring. Later, if mail sent to an employee's home is returned, they said, an investigation is opened. Nassau officials say they are auditing personnel records for residency changes, and workers found to live outside the county without permission could be fired.

"Since taking office, the Mangano administration has been auditing employee files and anyone who does not have a waiver on file could face termination," said Nassau spokesman Michael Martino.

 

Lack of locals

The rationale Hempstead officials gave for hiring nonresidents is that often, no locals have taken the required civil service tests. As a result, the lists of job candidates prepared by the county's civil service department contain no residents - as in the case of the code enforcement hire this month.

But another job filled in December, for a public works maintenance helper, required no civil service test, and the board approved the hiring of an Amityville man for the $43,000 public works maintenance helper position. The job specification says the worker "serves as an apprentice or helper to higher-ranking maintenance personnel." No formal education or experience was required.

The vote came after the department director said he searched for months for a local skilled mason to fill the position, but several residents declined it at that salary.

Hall later said the job had been advertised to employees but had not been posted villagewide.

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