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Legislature OKs 15-district remap

The Niagara County Legislature approved a new 15-district remapping plan Tuesday with a minimum of controversy.

No one spoke at the final public hearing on the map before the Legislature approved it 14-0.

Legislature Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, and Legislator Renae Kimble, D-Niagara Falls, were among five legislators who missed Tuesday's meeting.

The new map will take effect unless someone submits a petition by June 3, signed by 5 percent of the county's registered voters, seeking a referendum.

Barring that unlikely scenario, the map will be used in the November election.

It implements the reduction of the Legislature from 19 to 15 members, overwhelmingly approved in a 2009 referendum.

Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, said he was surprised that no one spoke at the public hearing.

"I thought there would be half a dozen people," he said. "You can look at it two ways. I'm going to look at it the positive way, that our independent redistricting commission made the changes the people wanted. Or you could look at it the other way, that people aren't really concerned about redistricting in Niagara County."

The commission, headed by Kevin C. Schuler, a Pendleton Republican, used a veteran GOP attorney, J.R. Drexelius, to create a new map using the 2010 census figures.

The first draft was panned at a public hearing April 5 in Niagara Falls. By the time the commission reconvened the next night, the map had been altered to implement many of the changes sought by the speakers at the first hearing.

The map has three districts in Niagara Falls, down from five under the 19-member format.

In other action Tuesday, the Legislature hired the consulting and lobbying firm of Masiello, Martucci, Calabrese & Associates to advise the county on how to implement the new position of director of homeland security.

"I object to adding another layer of government," Edwina Luksch of Newfane said during the public comment period. "The taxpayers cannot afford this."

Sheriff James R. Voutour said the county needs a lobbying effort in Washington to defeat a bill in the House that would cut the number of metropolitan areas receiving annual federal homeland security funding from 64 to 25, with New York City receiving the only funds in New York State.

"We have to keep an eye on this because Niagara County stands to lose several million dollars," Voutour said. Chief Deputy Thomas C. Beatty said the county received more than $5 million last year.

Virtuoso said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon that the $30,000, no-bid consulting contract violated even the revised purchasing guidelines the Legislature adopted just two weeks ago.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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