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Does Oneida County Have Too Many Legislators?

Utica, NY (WIBX) - A newly appointed committee will take up the issue of reducing the size of the Oneida County Board of Legislators.

The Legislative Reapportionment Committee is comprised of six of the board’s 29 members. “The first task will be to come up with a number of legislators, to reduce it or not to reduce it. The second task will be to do the redistricting,” said Board Chairman Gerald Fiorini, who announced the appointments Monday afternoon.

The County Charter mandates such a review every ten years, Fiorini said.

George Joseph (R-10) will serve as chairman of the committee. Other members are Majority Leader David Wood (R-28), Minority Leader Patty Hudak (D-29), Ed Welsh (R-21), Richard Flisnik (R-8) and Michael Clancy (D-12).

Some of the ‘dynamics’ that will help determine the committee’s recommendation are still unknown, Joseph said, including census results for cities, towns and villages, and whether or not prisoners will be counted for redistricting.  “There’s no state legislation in place to deal with [counting prisoners].”

In Oneida County, legislators are paid approximately $8,400 annually and represent roughly 8,000 residents. Many pay scales around the state often amount to about $1 per constituent, according to several members of the committee.

So, if the board is reduced, would that mean they’d get a raise? Not necessarily.

The Legislative Reapportionment Committee will not address pay or other benefits, like health coverage. Of the 29 members, only eleven currently take the county’s offered coverage, officials said.

A seperate committee will examine compensation in the future, Fiorini said.

Any reduction of the board will have to first be approved by voters and would not take effect until 2014.

Concerns and Objective

Some of the committee’s members spoke to WIBX about their thoughts heading into the process.

“It’s about better efficiency,” said Joseph, when asked if the committee’s goal is saving money.

Legislators Clancy, Hudak and Welsh said part of the process involves balancing any redistricting effort to ensure each member represents roughly the same number of residents, while keeping the size of districts in mind.

“Oneida County has more square miles than the State of Rhode Island,” Welsh said. “One legislator, I won’t mention his name, his district covers 204 square miles,” because it’s a rural area, Welsh said.

Representing an area that includes a combination of cities, towns and villages presents unique challenges, said Clancy, because legislators are expected to attend meetings and activities in each of the communities they speak for. Clancy’s district runs through Vernon, Verona, the outer district of Rome, Floyd and continues to the Holland Patent line.

“There’s three ward meetings (Rome), two neighborhood watch meetings, two town board meetings, three fire departments and five school districts,” he said.

While acknowledging growing public sentiment to reduce the size of government, Minority Leader Hudak doesn’t think that’s always a good thing. She said when Onondaga County reduced the size of its board it also lowered the number of committees and meetings. That means ‘less representation’, she said.

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