Sunday, February 2, 2003

Norwood council must shrink

Members less certain about change

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NORWOOD - Because of its shrinking population, this city of about 22,000 residents must switch from nine to seven council members.

But the reduction will not happen anytime soon.

Technically, the change should have been made in the 1990s, when the city's population fell below 25,000. State law says cities with fewer than 25,000 residents should have seven elected council members, not nine.

But officials apparently didn't realize that, and some now are blaming each other for dropping the ball on setting up new wards.

Safety-Service Director Jack Cameron said he'd wait until the end of the year to submit the proper documents, including new ward maps, to the Hamilton County Board of Elections.

If approved, the city would split into four voting wards instead of six. At the same time, council would shrink to four wards and three at-large candidates.

The redistricting would be in place for the 2005 primary election. However, before that time rolls around, council members want to discuss the switch and ask voters in 2004 if they really want fewer representatives.

"We're putting on the ballot ... to stay with nine (council members) or drop down to seven. That's something that has to be left to the voters," Councilman John Fenton said.Norwood, which lost a large General Motors Corp. facility in the 1980s, had 23,674 residents in the 1990 Census. Falling under 25,000 meant a reduction to seven council members.

But "nobody really realized you had to do it," Cameron said. And, "these six wards have been around for a long time."

City administrators drew up the necessary paperwork in 2001, redistricting the city to demonstrate the loss of population to development on the city's east side, near the Interstate 71 interchange.

In the new ward maps, Montgomery Road is the natural border for two wards to the east and two wards to the west. As they stand, one ward takes up the south end of the city. There are three wards east and two wards west of Montgomery.

Council members have concerns about redistricting, which would expand the average ward size from 3,613 to 5,419. Each council member would represent a constituency that is 50 percent greater.

Will DeLuca said he's already struggling to stay abreast of council business. He can't imagine fielding more phone calls and holding more fund-raisers to win voters.

"That would mean that I would have to devote more time to the city than I already do. I don't think it would be a good move," he said.

While Norwood continues to face budget woes, dropping to seven council members would save a mere $17,000 in council salaries. The city operates on an annual $19 million spending plan."The main thing is that before it happens (and) if it happens, there needs to be some discussion," Councilman Keith Moore said.


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