By Denise Dick
City council’s much-awaited redistricting plan is set for a vote at a special meeting Wednesday.
The proposed new map would have the wards’ population range from 8,949 to 9,534 and wouldn’t count the 2,071 prisoners at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center on the East Side. About 75 percent of the private prison’s population are illegal immigrants convicted of federal felonies.
The population in the wards currently ranges from 7,227 to 12,130, using 2010 census numbers.
The city is supposed to redistrict after every 10-year U.S. census but hasn’t done so for more than 30 years.
A new map would be in place for the 2015 council races and would take effect after that year’s election.
Also on the agenda is a handful of charter amendments for the Nov. 4 ballot.
One of those that is expected to be added late to council’s agenda would reduce the number of wards in the city from seven to five.
Councilman Paul Drennen, D-5th, one of the members of the committee that circulated petitions to collect signatures to get the measure on the ballot, said the group submitted petitions with about 1,700 signatures Monday to city council.
Those petitions still must be checked by the Mahoning County Board of Elections to ensure the required number of signatures have been collected.
“It’s based on the fact that the city hasn’t been redistricted in more 30 years,” Drennen said.
In November 2012, city voters approved a charter amendment for redistricting, but it’s taken almost two years for council to act on it and people are frustrated, he said.
The reduction in the number of wards is based on the city’s population.
“It seems everywhere the city is trying to reduce in other areas,” Drennen said.
He believes council should, too. The reduction of two council seats could mean two more police officers or two firefighters, he said.
Council members, who work parttime, earn $27,817.24 annually, plus benefits. Each council member also is allotted $15,000 for discretionary and travel expenses. Discretionary money is used for projects within a council person’s ward.
“Most people got on board because they thought it was the right thing to do based on the population,” Drennen said. “Only two [people] who I talked to told me they wouldn’t sign the petition. Most of the residents I talked to face to face, it made sense to them once they were educated about what it was.”
Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, also was on the committee that circulated the petitions.
He, too, believes that since all of the other departments have cut back, city council should as well.
“We’re talking about reducing the fire department by one truck,” Ray said. “All of the departments are being asked to make cuts — rightsizing government.”
What a councilperson makes is about the same as an entry-level police officer or firefighter.
If approved by voters, the reduction would affect the 2015 election. It wouldn’t affect Drennen, who can’t seek another term because of term limits. But if Ray chose to seek re-election, he would do so with the reduced number of seats.
“It is a concern,” Ray said. “A lot of my constituents have said, ‘Will we still have you?’ But this is what’s right and what the city needs, and I’m willing to take the risk and hopefully, it will go in my favor.”
Another proposed charter amendment on council’s Wednesday agenda would combine the economic-development and community-development offices while another would make the code-enforcement and blight-remediation superintendent an unclassified position rather than one that’s filled by civil service.
Another proposed charter amendment, called the Community Bill of Rights by its supporters, seeks to ban fracking in the city. Opponents say it’s unenforceable because the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, not city officials, make those decisions.
Council also is expected to consider an ordinance to create the coordinator of downtown events and citywide special projects as a position under the mayor’s office. Previously, council members had appointed that position, though city officials have said there was inconsistency in the charter provisions and ordinances regarding council’s right to hire for that post.
Also on the agenda is an ordinance to ratify the tentative agreement with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2312 which includes about 90 clerks, secretaries, aides and inspectors. The contract calls for pay increases of 1 percent the first year, 1.5 percent the second year and 1 percent third year of the pact, said Law Director Martin Hume.
Annual salaries range from $26,187 for an entry-level park laborer to $54,578 for a housing finance specialist, according to Vindicator files.