Schuyler considers redistricting alternatives
SCHUYLER COUNTY—The Schuyler County legislative redistricting committee met to discuss the ongoing redistricting process on Wednesday, May 2 in the human services complex. Rocky Kambo, the director of planning and community development for the Schuyler branch of the Cornell Cooperative Extension, offered a presentation explaining the three current redistricting proposals. The plans being considered are an eight district plan, a seven district plan, and a five district plan with two “at large” districts. The current districts need to be redrawn due to shifts in the population that have created what could be considered unequal representation. Chairman Dennis Fagan said the existing variance between districts is nearly 16 percent. The slide show presentation, which contains maps of the proposed changes, is available on the Schuyler County website.
The five district plan, explained Kambo, uses “logical road boundaries” to carve out five districts. This plan would allow for seven legislatures, five with districts loosely based around town lines, and two “at large” districts comprising east and west districts divided along the boundary separating the towns of Dix and Montour. The population variance among the five districts would be negligible (as it is with all three plans), however the variance between the two larger districts would be approaching ten percent. County attorney Geoffrey Rossi researched the issue and reported that this variance would likely be upheld if challenged.
Kambo also prepared an eight district plan using town and road boundaries. This plan would generally delineate districts based on town boundaries. Hector would be split three ways with a separate north and south Hector divided near Mathews and Updike Roads and the southwestern corner of Hector paired with the village of Watkins Glen. Due to the large population in Hector, Kambo explained it will have to be divided regardless of the plan. The towns of Catharine and Cayuta would cover one district and Reading would be combined with most of Tyrone. It was the Watkins Glen and Hector combination that drew the most consternation from those in attendance. Judith Phillips explained that there is little commonality between Watkins Glen and southwestern Hector. Kambo said he tried to include Watkins Glen with parts of Reading and Dix but the numbers did not work.
The final alternative, a plan with seven districts, was developed more for illustration than for actual consideration. To make the seven district plan work, Kambo said he was forced to mostly disregard town boundaries in order to keep the population variance within acceptable levels. The resulting delineations split the town of Dix into three different districts, one that includes Watkins Glen, one with part of Reading and the other with part of Montour. Fagan explained, “that’s just the way the numbers work when you divide our population by 7,” adding that it results in “very complex boundary delineations.”
Legislator Phil Barnes said that he could not support the seven district plan because of the way it carved up the towns, particularly Dix, and he could not support the five and two plan because it would be very difficult for a candidate to run a campaign in the “at large” districts given their size. Fagan said that he favored the five and two plan because of the “reasonable boundary delineation” for the five districts, and because it would reduce the overall size of government by eliminating a legislative seat. Halpin replied that the plan would create “a more complicated ballot.” Barnes and Halpin, along with Legislators Doris Karius, Thomas Gifford and Michael Yuhasz voiced their tentative support for the eight district plan. Although it was clear that the legislature will consider all of the available redistricting alternatives.
The legislature did not officially vote on which plan to implement. Fagan suggested that Kambo alter the eight district plan to determine if Watkins Glen could be paired with a different area. The legislators will also consider adopting the five district plan without the two at large districts. Once a decision is made, a public referendum would only be required if the redistricting effort eliminated legislative seats. If the legislature ultimately decides to maintain an eight seat legislature, a referendum would only be required if the public successfully petitioned to hold one.