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PANEL TO PRESENT NEW WARD MAP TO COUNCIL THIS WEEK

A new map of Common Council wards will be hammered out Monday and presented to the Council Wednesday, members of the city redistricting committee said.

The bipartisan four-member panel was appointed by Mayor Kenneth D. Swan to draw the boundaries of five new Council wards for use in this year's election.

Voters last November approved the reduction of the Council from eight members to six. Five will be elected from wards and one at large. Thus, the existing eight wards have to be abolished.

However, the 23 election districts -- three to a ward except for the 2nd Ward, which has two -- must remain intact, the Niagara County Board of Elections has ruled, citing state law.

And the law also says the total population of each ward must be roughly equal, based on figures from the most recent U.S. Census, taken nine years ago. In effect, the redistricting committee is pretending it's 1990.

"It certainly would have made more sense to have waited until after the next census," said former Democratic Alderman Edward W. Tracy, noting that the map will have to be redrawn again in 2001.

The committee experienced a delay in obtaining detailed city census figures, but the Board of Elections finally located them.

Former Republican County Legislator Margaret F. Truax said each of the four members went home with two wards' worth of census figures to transfer to an election district map, in order to determine the 1990 population of each district.

Then the panel will meet Monday to figure out which districts to unite into which new wards.

"We're within eyeball range now," said former GOP Alderman Elroy D. Powley. "We hope to have something to the Council for its Wednesday meeting."

Democratic attorney Patricia M. McGrath said the Council will have to act on the measure as a local law, which under the City Charter needs to sit on their desks for 10 days. A vote would be taken at the Feb. 17 Council meeting.

The Council has the final say in regard to the ward map, but Powley said, "We're finding there aren't a lot of options if you stay within the guidelines."

Mrs. Truax said, "There's not probably going to be a lot of leeway, because we're limited by not being able to change the election district boundaries."

Tracy said, "It's not going to be a partisan thing. It's just a mathematical problem we have to solve."

Ms. McGrath said since the map has to be done over in two years, "I see no reason for us to become completely entrenched in positions."

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