Local governments struggle to fill jobs statewide

Leaders lobby state to update civil service requirements

ALBANY — Leaders of local government associations say counties, cities and towns are facing a hiring crisis.

They are calling for reforms to a New York civil service system that they say has become antiquated and hinders their ability to make hiring decisions for jobs crucial to the delivery of services to the public.

Civil service reform

Law enforcement executives, who have their own associations, are backing the proposed reforms, pointing out their agencies, too, are struggling to fill jobs.

To allow local governments to better compete with the private sector for employees, the New York State Association of Counties is advocating for a system that allows continuous civil service recruitment exams, giving candidates the ability to apply for openings at any time.

Another move that could help streamline recruitment would be to ditch archaic restrictions that candidates get civil service notifications by traditional mail and allow those contacts to be made by email and telephone calls, the counties say.

Further, they are seeking an overhaul of grading metrics, to make them more understandable and to increase the potential pool of eligible candidates.

“As society has advanced, our civil service laws are hamstringing our ability to meet the modern demands for hiring and onboarding new employees,” NYSAC states in a position paper outlining its civil service reform proposals. “There is little or no flexibility within the job duties of the classified position that an applicant has applied for.”

“Archaic” laws

The Conference of Mayors and the state Association of Towns are also calling for civil service changes to allow for a more efficient hiring process for public sector jobs.

The hiring crisis has been growing increasingly acute for many county sheriffs departments and municipal police agencies.

“We are dealing with some really archaic and ridiculous civil service laws that have become impediments in our recruitment efforts,” Patrick Phelan, executive director of the New York State Police Chiefs Association, told CNHI.

“Everybody is really struggling for candidates,” Phelan added.

Police staffing

The county sheriffs, in addition to having road patrols and investigative units in many counties, also operate county jails, which by law and regulation must be staffed by trained corrections officers around the clock.

To keep shifts filled amid the staffing shortages, some counties have had to impose mandatory overtime on their corrections officers, taking a toll on those workers and leading to officer “burnout” in some cases, said Peter Kehoe, executive director of the New York State Sheriffs Association.

“This is an issue we share with the police chiefs,” Kehoe said. “Neither of us can get police officers. But we have the added challenge of recruiting corrections officers.”

Highly publicized controversies involving a small number of police departments in recent years have contributed to the dearth of candidates, Kehoe said.

“We’ve seen the demonizing of the police profession to the point that a lot of people no longer consider it as a career option,” he pointed out.

Some reforms, including expansion of a limited pilot project that now allows consideration of all applicants who score at least 70 on corrections officers civil service tests, could be made without legislation if they were authorized by the state civil service commission, Kehoe noted.

Medicaid plan

On a separate front, NYSAC has been increasing pressure on lawmakers to keep Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposal for a Medicaid cost shift out of the state budget now being negotiated.

NYSAC, in a statement released Tuesday, said that proposal would result in the counties and the New York City government contributing a record $12 billion to the state treasury over the coming fiscal year.

The state has been using local taxes to balance its books, said Michael Zurlo, the Clinton County administrator and the president of NYSAC.

“The result is it’s simply making it harder to live, work and raise a family in our state,” Zurlo said.

Both the state Assembly and Senate opted to not wrap Hochul’s cost-shift proposal into their budget resolutions. However, the fate of the governor’s proposal will remain unknown until a final agreement emerges on a fiscal blueprint for the state.


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