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Numbers Crunchers; Debate On Reducing County Board

Utica, NY (WIBX) - Downsize, or stay the same?

The Oneida County Reapportionment Committee continues to meet to discuss whether or not to cut the number of legislators, a process that is mandated every decade.

The county was once governed by a 50 member Board of Supervisors. Population declines brought the number down to 37, under a Board of Legislators in 1968. The board has had 29 members, the current number, since 1996.

“This was the first opportunity that all the members that were here at the committee actually stated numbers, publicly,” said George Joseph, chairman of the reapportionment committee, regarding Monday night’s meeting.

The six member committee will make a recommendation to the full board regarinding the number of legislators. The committee will also re-draw the district lines.

Recently released census figures show the county’s population holding steady, however, Joseph hopes the process results in fewer legislators, less cost and more efficiency.

“By cutting the board we will force efficiencies, that we otherwise wouldn’t have. It’s shrinking government,” he said.

Joseph is in favor of chopping six seats from the board, something fellow Republicans, Majority Leader Dave Wood and Ed Welsh support.

Democratic Minority Leader Patricia Hudak and Michael Clancy, also a Democrat, don’t think the committee blade should cut that deep into the board. Both indicated that having 27 to 29 memebrs on the board would be appropriate, considering the county’s population and vast rural areas.

Republican legislator Richard Flisnik did not attend Monday’s meeting.

Hudak says it’s a part-time job and such a large cut would mean more committee meetings, more responsibilities, more constituents and larger districts.

“If we go too small and keep the same numbers of committees…I’m just afraid we’re not gonna have anybody that’s gonna want to do this job,” Hudak said.

Legislator Chad Davis, a Democrat who is not on the reapportionment committee, agrees.

“Cutting members of the board also cuts the number of ideas at the table,” Davis said, adding that it would also increase the time invested by each legislator. “[This job] is a lot of work.”

Davis also pointed to the census numbers and possible future growth in the county, specifically mentioning the Marcy NanoCenter.

Republican Rose Ann Convertino is also not on the committee but observed the meeting. At one point, she took issue with Joseph’s remarks about increasing efficiency.

Large cuts to the board, Convertino said, would reduce efficiency and ‘dilute the voice of the people.’

“We’re a lean, mean machine. But, can we rest on that?,” Joseph asked.

Legislators earn about $8,400 a year, or roughly one dollar per constituent. This committee, however, is not tasked with taking up the issue of compensation, legislators said.

That will be determined by a future committee, they said.

The committee hopes to make a recommendation by mid-summer, Joseph said, and it will need approval from the full county board, then voters.

Democratic legislator Michael Hennessy sent the committee a letter suggesting the board be slashed nearly in half, reducing 14 seats and making it a 15 member board. The idea did not have the support of any of the committee members at Monday’s meeting.

Previous story on county’s Reapportionment Committee

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