By Colin Hogan
A county legislator representing Fulton has proposed that the Common Council consider revamping the boundaries of the city’s wards.
Legislator Dan Farfaglia (D-Fulton, Granby) is suggesting the city redraw the boundaries of its six municipal wards, which according to 2010 U.S. Census figures have vast differences in their populations.
Using the U.S. Census’ adjusted 2010 numbers for Fulton, Farfaglia has come up with the following ward populations: First ward—1,993; second ward—1,760; third ward—1,832; fourth ward—2,421; fifth ward—1,814; sixth ward—2,120.
State law and court decisions have mandated that only a 10 percent deviation (up to 5 percent above and 5 percent below) be allowed from the median population for a district. That means in Fulton, each ward’s population would have to fall somewhere between 1,890 and 2,090 residents.
According to Farfaglia, only the city’s first ward is compliant with those rules. He’s proposing extending the second ward into part of the third ward’s current boundary; the third ward would then extend into the fourth ward’s current boundary, which would put parts of the third ward on both sides of the Oswego River; and the fifth ward would extend partially into the sixth ward’s current boundary. (See Farfaglia’s map.)
Under that arrangement, Farfaglia’s tally of ward populations would be as follows: First ward—1,993; second ward—2,008; third ward—2,010; fourth ward—1,995; fifth ward—1,951; sixth ward—1,983.
Mayor Ron Woodward Sr. said he doesn’t believe the 2010 census figures were entirely accurate, but that he “wouldn’t oppose” changing the ward boundaries if the council favored doing so.
“I do agree with what the mayor said — that there have been parts of the city undercounted in the last census. But you still have to use whatever the available data is. It doesn’t mean you should just leave the lines as they are,” Farfaglia said. “It’s important that everyone’s vote is counted equally.”
To accommodate Farfaglia’s proposal, however, the city would need to make changes to its charter, which currently does not allow for any wards to cross over the Oswego River. Making such a change would require the public’s consent through a mandatory referendum.
Third Ward Councilor Ryan Raponi said, if the council were to look into making changes, he would like to see the city’s number of wards reduced from six to four.
“I think financially that makes the most sense,” Raponi said, noting the savings of having two fewer councilors on the city’s payroll. “We’re not overworked by any means. I feel like having six of us is a waste of taxpayer money.”
Raponi said he has spoken to at least three other councilors who were “open to discussing” such a change.
According to Oswego County Elections Commissioner Richard Atkins, Fulton’s council has the autonomy to make such changes, provided they are in keeping with any related provisions in the city’s charter. However, reducing the number of wards would be a much more complicated process than just redistributing the population among the existing six, provided one of those wards doesn’t have to cross the river.
“When you start talking about removing wards, you’re talking about reducing the power of elected officials,” Atkins explained, “which would require a mandatory referendum instead of just a passive referendum. The people have to say ‘yeah we want to go to four wards’ rather than just agree to whatever the council has decided.”
Atkins was quick to point out that his office would have no authority over the matter, but would have to accommodate whatever changes were made by adjusting the election districts. He said, in either case, the city would have to work closely with legal counsel and appoint a designated committee to oversee the process.
Should the council decide to pursue a reduction of wards, Atkins said the election cycle would need to be taken into consideration in order to avoid electing more councilors than would be needed once the change goes into effect.
Some on the Common Council said they’re not opposed to making changes to their own structure, but feel a more pressing issue is the number of representatives on the county legislature.
“I’ve got more of a problem with the county’s (representative districts) than I do with the city’s. I don’t think we need four legislators in the city of Fulton and I think (the whole legislature) should go down to about 15 legislators,” said First Ward Councilor Tom Kenyon. Raponi said later in an interview that he agreed with Kenyon.
Farfaglia agreed, as well, saying some of the legislators, including himself, “advocate for that change on a regular basis.”
By Colin Hogan