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5 named to redistrict Niagara Legislature Minority leader says Falls is underrepresented on panel consisting of Democrat, 4 Republicans

The redistricting commission that is to draw the new Niagara County Legislature districts mixes political figures of the past with others who have served more recently on prominent boards.

Those appointed at Tuesday's Legislature meeting are Shirley G. Urtel of Cambria, the Legislature's former majority leader; Charles J. Naughton of Wheatfield, former chairman of the Niagara County Democratic Party; Patricia Dufour of the Town of Lockport, a member of the county Industrial Development Agency board; Kevin C. Schuler of Wheatfield, chairman of the Niagara USA Chamber; and Michael R. Cornell of North Tonawanda, principal of Amherst Middle School.

Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, said he wants the committee to hold its first meeting at 4 p.m. Jan. 13 in the County Courthouse to start the ball rolling toward its goal of creating 15 new legislative districts by March 8.

Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, who chose Cornell and Dufour, said he was looking for a geographical and vocational balance.

Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, who chose Naughton, said he didn't think that was achieved.

"I don't think it's geographically balanced," he said. "Niagara Falls is the biggest city, and there should have been more representation [for the Falls]."

"I think we have a real good team," said Ross, who chose Schuler and Urtel.

Naughton, a former Niagara Falls firefighter, once served as county human resources director. He is a practicing attorney and the only Democrat on the panel. All other members are Republicans.

Urtel was a legislator for seven years, including four years as majority leader, until she was defeated in the 2001 election. She made an unsuccessful run for Cambria supervisor in 2007.

Dufour, owner of a consulting business, served on the Town of Lockport IDA board before joining the county agency last year.

Schuler, who is regarded as a Republican insider, is a member of the Niagara County Community College board of trustees and a senior vice president at LP Ciminelli, one of the area's top construction firms.

Cornell was an original member of the Niagara River Greenway Commission in 2005 and served two years.

Also Tuesday, Ross gave his annual State of the County address, which even he admitted to his colleagues contained "a lot of repetition" of previous years' themes.

He said the county faces a "very volatile" situation with the AES Corp. power plant in Somerset, which is seeking an increased tax break in the face of financial woes. The plant is the county's largest property taxpayer, supplying the county nearly $5 million a year.

"It's something you can't play Russian roulette with," Ross said. "If they closed their doors tomorrow and went bankrupt, we'd face a No. 1 problem."

He said the successful deal for the NCCC culinary arts institute in the former Rainbow Centre Mall in Niagara Falls was a triumph.

"I never thought it was going to take place. There were so many problems, I thought they were insurmountable," Ross said.

Ross praised the county's budget process, which he said continued a trend toward smaller government in the face of state mandates. This year's budget contains 1,463 full-time positions.

"You go back eight years, we were at 1,799 [full-time equivalents], so we do believe in smaller government," Ross said.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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