By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Legislators learned on Thursday of the long journey toward redistricting.
Real Property Tax Services Director Lynda Levine presented the Executive Committee with the county figures from the 2010 census, broken down by the nine legislative districts.
The county’s overall population has increased in the past decade, but just as importantly, it has shifted.
As a result, the nine legislators no longer represent an equal share of county voters.
Too, New York now prohibits the counting of inmates at state prisons, including the two in Woodbourne and Fallsburg (which would otherwise add 1,279 people to District 7, represented by Democrat Gene Benson).
“The ideal [district] population from the 2010 census is 8,474,” explained Levine.
Not a single legislative district hits that number square on. Some are far different, in fact, as the current boundaries are based on the 2000 census.
District 3 represented by Republican Kitty Vetter and encompassing the towns of Rockland, Neversink and part of Liberty only has 7,536 residents.
District 8 represented by Democrat Ira Steingart and covering the northern third of the Town of Thompson, half of the Village of Monticello, and a sliver of the Town of Fallsburg comes in at 9,886 residents, on the other hand.
So legislators must now redefine those districts to encompass a more equal population spread not an easy task with these puzzle pieces, considering that changing one district’s boundaries has a ripple effect on virtually all the other districts.
“You’d probably have to do it by splitting election districts,” predicted Levine. “That’s how we did it the last time.”
A consultant was hired for about $20,000 to help with the redistricting a decade ago, and legislators are considering doing so again.
District 4 Legislator Jonathan Rouis suggested it as a way to avoid lawsuits and charges of favoritism and gerrymandering.
Levine thought the process should be completed around 2014-2015, but Legislator Alan Sorensen and others worried that would be too close to the next round of Legislature elections, politically complicating the matter.
“I think we should have this in place by mid-term,” agreed Vetter.
So the process may start soon, as Levine estimated that from start to finish it will take about a year.
Also approved by the Legislature this past Thursday:
• Replacing Cindy Gieger with Kitty Vetter on the Soil and Water Conservation District Board (joining Gene Benson).
• Naming Catherine Rauschendorfer as the permanent administrator of the Adult Care Center in Liberty, replacing the interim, Jim Galligan.
• Officially extending the Sullivan County Visitors Association’s (SCVA’s) contract through December, with requests for proposals due in August.
• Setting a public hearing for Thursday, March 15 at 1:50 p.m. to get comments on the proposal to require local dealers to retain gems and precious metals for 15 days before reselling or trading them.