BY JENNA HUTCHINS
Rockland residents interested in applying for civil service exams may soon see an increase in the application fees. Joan Silvestri, the county’s commissioner of Personnel, discussed the prospect of a price hike at the County Legislature’s Budget & Finance meeting, Tuesday night.
Prior to 2012, there were no fees for civil service exams in Rockland. Exams were not cost-free to the county, however, as the county has to pay to administer the tests and provide an exam booklet for each person who applies, whether or not the applicant shows up to take the exam. The fact that taxpayers were footing the bill instead of only people using the service ultimately led the Legislature to vote and approve a minimum exam fees.
As of that 2012 decision, the price in Rockland County to take a non-uniform civil service exam, which includes exams to become a librarian or government clerical worker, is $15. For uniform, including police, patrol, and corrections officers, the fee is $30.
These prices are something Silvestri is hoping the lawmakers will revise upwards to $25 for non-uniform exams and $50 for uniform exams. Silvestri told the committee members that even if the fee is raised to her requested rates, Rockland’s exams will still be cheaper than counties of comparable size and economics. According to Silvestri Suffolk charges $35 and $50, Westchester $40 and $100, Putnam $20-35 and $60, and Nassau $40 and $100.
Several legislators immediately said that they could not support the increase. Legislator Ilan Schoenberger said, “This is a tax on the people who wish to take civil service exams and improve their lives. There are many young people who wish to work for government who take series of civil service exams. It’s not unusual for a person to take not one, but multiple exams. To impose upon them a $25 per exam cost, and some of these people work at barely minimum wage jobs…those lowest on the economic ladder are being taxed to support county government’s operations.” Legislators Philip Soskin and Toney Earl agreed that the proposed rates could discourage persons lower on the economic ladder from applying for positions.
The commissioner said that the past few years prove this will not be the case. Since implementing the fee, turnout for examinations has increased from the former 75-85 percent to now consistently having attendance in the high 90s, and in some cases almost 100 percent. She believes that when people are required to make a non-refundable monetary investment, they are more inclined to use the service they paid for.
Silvestri also said that while some people may take an exam more than once, there are free resources available online and in her office for those who wish to prep for the exams, and that certain individuals in need can request a fee waiver. Those using social services or who are unemployed are eligible for this exemption.
Legislator Lon Hofstein agreed with the commissioner. “This is an investment in an individual’s future. People go to college and they take on a lot of debt because it is an investment in their future.” He said the Legislature should not be discouraging people from taking the exams more seriously.
No decision has been made on the fee increase at this time, and it will continue to be discussed in within the Legislature.