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County’s effort to enforce residency could have unintended consequences

The debate over residency rules for public employees – always a touchy issue – has resurfaced as Erie County prepares to require new employees to live in the county.

While a municipality is within its rights to institute residency rules, such rules can be counterproductive by limiting the pool of candidates for a particular opening. In addition, it’s always problematic when government tries to tell people where they are allowed to live if they want to serve the public.

The Erie County Legislature narrowly passed a residency law. County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz is considering whether to sign the bill into law. The 6-5 vote to approve came over strong objections from Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant. However, Grant and the other opponents favor a residency law, just not one championed by Republicans.

Legislator Joseph C. Lorigo, R-West Seneca, introduced the legislation. Legislator Thomas A. Loughran of Amherst, a Democrat, and Legislator Lynne M. Dixon of Hamburg, the body’s sole Independent, joined the four-member Republican caucus to pass the resolution.

Grant wants a residency law drawn up with the help of the county attorney, who was appointed by the Democratic county executive.

Had this rule been in place a short time ago, the new commissioner for mental health, Ellery Reaves, formerly of Rochester, might not have applied or could have had a hard time taking the post.

Most county workers apparently are happy to live in Erie County. There are only about 50 county employees who are not residents of the county, a tiny fraction of a workforce of thousands. The residency rule will have a negligible effect on county finances.

It is usually in the best interest of county employees to live in the county. After all, that way they get to vote for their bosses. This residency rule is an attempt to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.