Residents had a chance this week to comment on planned redistricting to allow the Niagara County Legislature to be reduced from 19 to 15 members.
The plan, developed by the Niagara County Legislative Reapportionment Commission, doesn't appear to have a major effect on the Town of Niagara, but Wheatfield will be divided into three districts, with one boundary going through the heart of Bergholz. Plus, one of two longtime legislators (William Ross and Danny Sklarski) who have served Wheatfield and Town of Niagara will have to step down.
"I'm pleased with the outcome of the redistricting. It keeps the Town of Niagara intact," said Town of Niagara Supervisor Steve Richards.
Wheatfield Supervisor Bob Cliffe, however, is concerned.
"We have not sat as a board and discussed the manner in which the Redistricting Commission has chosen to handle Wheatfield. However, we have received an explanation as to why this was done," he said.
"Personally I'm concerned that Bergholz is split between two districts. This shows a disregard for this community as a very close-knit community of German descendants. I have sent in a request to review this and see if there is a way to make Bergholz whole again," he added.
He is hoping all of Bergholz could be made part of District 7.
Cliffe said he was also concerned that with the way the districts have been drawn, there is a chance that Wheatfield could end up with no legislator who actually lives in the town.
Currently, Sklarski represents the Town of Niagara and part of Wheatfield on the County Legislature (District 6). Ross, the Legislature chairman, represents the rest of Wheatfield (District 8).
A legislator is required to live in the district he or she represents. Under the redrawn lines, both Ross and Sklarski live in the same district.
Both have indicated a willingness to step down if necessary.
With the Legislature going from 19 to 15 members, "somebody's going to have to be cut; if it's me so be it," said Sklarski. "The most important thing is that the Town of Niagara and the Town of Wheatfield have quality leadership."
If the redistricting plan remains the same, Ross and he will do what they have always done, Sklarski said. They will sit down together and work out what is best, not only for their district, but Niagara County as a whole.
Sklarski was a Town of Niagara councilman for 10 years, before being elected to the Legislature, where he has served another 10 years.
"When I started, I had a full head of hair," he jokes.
Ross has deep roots in local government. In all, he has served the County Legislature a total of 18 years (not consecutive). In his career, he also has served four years as a Town of Niagara councilman and four years as a Wheatfield councilman. (He raised his family in Town of Niagara and in recent years has lived in Wheatfield.)
This isn't the first time he's gone through county redistricting. In the 1985, the Legislature was reduced from 31 districts to 19. In 1993, when a minority district was set up in Niagara Falls, he had to run against Art Kroening (now Wheatfield highway superintendent. "I lost," said Ross. He became a Wheatfield councilman a year later.
The Legislature knew the changes needed to reduce its size would be difficult. That's why an independent commission was formed to make the decisions, Ross said. Changes were made based on population, not political influence.
A final report on district lines from the commission is due by April 19.
"It's going to be an interesting couple of weeks," Ross predicted.
Maps of Niagara County's 15 proposed County Legislature districts are available for review on the Niagara County website, www.niagaracounty.com. The maps, along with supporting materials and descriptions of the proposed districts, are available by selecting the "Legislature" tab, and then selecting the "Redistricting" link on the left side of the page.
According to the commission:
•The new District 10 is drawn to preserve the core of old district 14 in the agricultural communities of Wilson and Cambria, with the addition of the northern parts of the Town of Wheatfield to the east of Ward Road.
•The new District 5 is drawn to preserve a significant portion of the core of the current District 6. In addition to all of the Town of Niagara, the district includes portions of Wheatfield. The borders of the district seek to generally follow established major roadways including, Hyde Park Boulevard, Porter Road, Packer Road and Niagara Falls Boulevard.
•The new District 7 contains part of North Tonawanda and the growing communities adjoining it in Wheatfield, retaining significant portions of the current District 8.
This map shows the proposed legislative district boundaries for Niagara County.