On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that would allow city firefighters to live in the surrounding counties, an exemption that several other cities throughout the state have received.
Under state law, firefighters employed by cities with fewer than 1 million people must live in the county in which they work.
The city also has a poorly enforced law requiring city employees to live within city limits. State law, however, trumps city law.
Earlier this year the state Legislature passed a bill introduced by Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, and state Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, requesting the exemption.
The bill is modeled on an exemption for Albany County, Brindisi said.
“I'm pleased the governor signed the bill,” he said. “It brings the city's residency requirements into line with similar upstate counties.”
There are at least four firefighters who live outside Oneida County, and rather than push forward with a protracted legal battle to force them to comply, the city asked the state for an exemption.
The exemption is good news for the department and was the right decision, said Robert Wenner, head of the firefighters' union.
“I was always confident that if we had to pursue legal means we would've prevailed,” he said. “This is a clear-cut decision on residency in the city of Utica and I would say it will help expand the pool of candidates.”
After talking with the city and the fire department, state representatives decided to help out, Griffo said.
“That was something where there was an issue between the department and the city and we tried to resolve it,” he said. “We were trying to be helpful and we appreciate that the governor signed it."
Fire Chief Russell Brooks could not immediately be reached for comment.
The city will continue to encourage city employees to live within the city, said Mayor Robert Palmieri.
“It's the law and I have to abide by the law,” he said. “My philosophy, quite frankly, is that it's up to me to incentivize people to want to live in the city. We have a great quality of life here. It's up to the administration to sell that
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