Could York City's residency mandate soon be a thing of the past?

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

For nearly 13 years, Cliff Kern has been the man behind the scenes ensuring York City residents stay informed on the goings on at City Hall.

As the station manager of White Rose Community TV, he's helped showcase various government meetings, sports games and even highlighted local small businesses.

But a long-debated city policy may contribute to his departure.

"My family and I want a bigger yard, we want some farm animals, chickens, you name it," Kern said. "And that's just not available in the city."

The city's current residency requirement, last amended in 1994, gives all city employees   six months from when they are hired to move within city limits unless they are department heads or belong to a union.

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But that could soon change.

On Wednesday, after a lengthy public comment period, York City Council voted to put a residency requirement amendment on the next legislative agenda.

"We've been hoping and praying for years that the city will change it," Kern told The York Dispatch, "and thus far they haven't, and we're just tired of waiting."

Clifton Kern, public access coordinator for White Rose Community TV, his wife Bethany and son Oaklen, tell York City Council how the current residency requirements effecting their family as it grows, Monday, February 10, 2020
John A. Pavoncello photo

Kern is one of about 98 employees in York City who are required to live within the city limits under the current policy.

The amendment would allow for those employees to live in York County and all contiguous counties: Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin and Lancaster Counties in Pennsylvania and Harford, Baltimore and Carroll Counties in Maryland.

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"We have been having difficulties in recruiting individuals," Mayor Michael Helfrich said. "It is a fact that residency is harming the functioning of the city government." 

According to a history provided by City Clerk Dianna Thompson-Mitchell, the residency mandate has been discussed numerous times since the 1960s. That includes a motion to repeal the residency requirement in 2010 that was eventually vetoed by then-Mayor Kim Bracey. 

Helfrich submitted a bill to repeal residency in 2019. After the bill was pulled for more discussion, a town hall meeting was held in 2020 at Logos Academy.

Six new York City police officers were sworn in Monday afternoon, April 11, 2022, at York City Hall. Bil Bowden photo

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich

Many speakers at the meeting supported the changing of the residency requirement, saying the costs of the requirement outweighed its benefits.

"I've been short of positions since October, when I lost a phenomenal deputy treasurer when the stress was too much, and that's what it was," said Treasurer Joe Jeffcoat.

Residency requirements have had a major impact on the York City Bureau of Health, as multiple speakers highlighted.

"The bureau just cannot afford to lose this many experienced public health workers," said Sharon Smith, chair of the board of health. 

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Smith said 19 employees   currently do not live in the city. In addition, eight qualified applicants for the emergency preparedness grant manager position declined the job due to residency requirements and the pay scale. 

"We have missed out on a lot of great people," added Nona Watson, the city's economic and community development director. "Our employees are overworked and they are underpaid, so when the time comes I'm just asking you to consider the residency requirement." 

Chastity Frederick, a registered nurse with the bureau of health who has spoken in favor of repealing the residency requirement in the past, said it's past time to change the residency policy.

Chastity Frederick, a registered nurse with the city Health Bureau, addresses York City Council with her concerns of the current residency requirements that are keeping the bureau from filling open nursing positions during a town hall meeting, Monday, February 10, 2020
John A. Pavoncello photo

"If my house is on fire tonight," she said, "am I going to wait and say to the firefighters that are on duty, 'Wait a second, only 10% of you live the city, the rest of you go home because clearly you're not going to be able to take care of my burning home?'"

Bethany Kern, Cliff's wife, said she works in Mechanicsburg and commutes there because she loves her job, she added, and is willing to drive that far.

"Cliff's the same way," she said. "He loves what he does, he loves coming to the city and putting his efforts into a successful White Rose Community TV." 

Council members Betsy Buckingham and Lou Rivera expressed their support for passing the residency requirement amendment, with Rivera saying that he would like to see it repealed entirely. Council president Sandie Walker,  Vice President Edquina Washington and council member Dr. Felicia Dennis all declined to say whether they support repealing the residency mandate.

York City Council holds a town hall meeting at Logos Academy to hear the public's opinion on residency requirements for city employees, Monday, February 10, 2020
John A. Pavoncello photo

The City Council meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 3, in the City Council chambers at 101 S. George St., York. Meetings are streamed live on the city's Facebook page, the YouTube channel for White Rose Community TV, online at White Rose Community TV's website or on Xfinity WRCT Channel 18.

— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.