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November 1, 2012

 

Smaller Legislature on Tuesday’s ballot

Voters will decide whether to reduce county lawmakers from 19 to 17

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

Cortland County voters will decide whether the county Legislature should be reduced to 17 legislators when they go to the polls Tuesday.
A city legislative district would be eliminated and one of Homer’s three districts would be combined with Preble and Scott to reduce the number of legislative districts and legislators from 19 to 17.
In May, the Legislature authorized, by a 13-6 vote, putting the question to the voters in November.
The idea remains polarizing, with supporters of the plan advocating for smaller government and increased efficiencies while opponents cite the potential confusion the move would cause in the city, where ward boundaries will likely remain the same and there will be competing legislative district boundaries.
City residents would be voting for seven legislators and eight aldermen in legislative and city wards that no longer line up.
The move does not eliminate weighted voting — only reducing the Legislature to 13 representatives would have done that.
Legislators did not endorse the cut to 13 because they thought it was too drastic and would never pass.
Reducing to 17 would eliminate the disparity that exists between the most and least populous districts.
District 17, represented by Dave Fuller, is the most populous district, with 3,379 people in Cincinnatus, Freetown, Taylor and Willet. Republican Gordon Wheelock represents the least populated District 10, which covers a portion of the town and village of Homer and 1,964 people.
Legislator Susan Briggs (R-Cortlandville) urged people to vote Tuesday for the reduction.
Briggs says it is a step in the right direction, though she would have liked to see a further reduction to 13 legislators.
The opportunity to cut the Legislature only comes around every 10 years, she said, since it must be done after the census is taken. Briggs said her constituents have supported cutting the Legislature’s size.
“The real goal here is to have less people so that you can come to consensus and get some work done,” Briggs said, adding that there is more effective government with fewer people. She pointed to conflicts the Legislature has faced during her term, saying things would run more smoothly with fewer people.
But Legislator Ray Parker (D-2nd Ward) said voting to go to 17 legislators is nothing but a symbolic move. Parker said the full savings of $12,000 in legislator salaries will probably not be seen anyway because of confusion and material costs from ballots that will have to be prepared for all possible city candidate combinations.
“I wanted 13, that way we would have gotten rid of weighted votes and everyone would have been equal,” Parker said.
He said if voters were educated about the positives of reducing to 13 legislators, they would have supported the idea.
Republican Election Commissioner Bob Howe said the problem that will result from competing legislative and alderman boundaries will be at the city’s eight polling places.
“The confusion is that when you come in you have got to know exactly what ballot you’re supposed to get and it will be up to the inspectors to be very careful as to what ballot they give you,” Howe said.
It is not likely the full savings of $12,000 would be eaten up by ballot printing costs, which could be about $5,200 more in a worst-case scenario.
Howe says there are 9,159 registered voters in the city and it costs about $5,200 to print ballots for them. If these ballots had to be doubled, it would cost another $5,200.
Howe said there could be additional costs associated with programing the machines, but he would not make any predictions about the total costs associated with redistricting since he said nothing is certain yet.
At the time of the vote in May, the six legislators opposed to the reduction were Parker, Sandy Price (D-Harford and Virgil), Dick Bushnell (D-5th Ward), Amy Cobb (D-3rd Ward), Don Spaulding (D-6th Ward) and John Troy (D-1st Ward).

 

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