Watertown Daily Times (NY) - Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Author: Steve Virkler Times Staff Writer

A plan to alter - but probably not drastically change - Lewis County legislative districts is to be released later this year. 

"I think the redistricting is pretty much done," said Board of Legislators Chairman Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, who also chairs the county's Reapportionment Committee. 

"We're 95 percent there, but we've got to make sure we get it right," added County Manager David H. Pendergast. 

At first glance in December, Mr. Bush floated the possibility that no changes would be needed. However, county officials now say that at least some alterations must be made. 

A plan should be ready for perusal by the full Board of Legislators at least by the fall, Mr. Pendergast said. 

That should allow plenty of time to make any changes for the fall 2013 elections, when all 10 legislative seats will be up for grabs. 

The number of county legislators likely will remain at 10, and tentative proposals, at this point, show all sitting legislators maintaining separate districts, Mr. Pendergast said. However, the lone consideration in the process is adhering to state election guidelines, not avoiding competition between incumbents. 

"We can't look at the individuals," Mr. Pendergast said. 

Redistricting is carried out every 10 years to account for shifts in population so that legislators will represent roughly equal numbers of people. 

Lewis County's population from 2000 to 2010 increased by only 143, from 26,944 to 27,087. 

However, the population has shifted toward the western portion of the county, reversing an eastward trend in the prior decade, Mr. Pendergast said. 

The goal will be to keep each Lewis County district as close as possible to the average population of 2,709. 

Making the redistricting process more difficult is a state stipulation that only towns with populations greater than 110 percent of the average may be split. That threshold for Lewis County is 2,980, meaning only a handful of the 17 towns would be eligible. 

Current legislative districts split only two towns: Lowville in four segments and Croghan in two. County officials are considering splitting other relatively populous towns such as Denmark and Martinsburg, both of which experienced growth over the last 10 years, to adhere to state guidelines. 

Map technicians at the county real property tax services office have been working out possible redistricting plans under guidance from the Reapportionment Committee, which also includes Legislators Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, and John O. Boyd, D-New Bremen, and the county election commissioners. 

Election officials also are considering alteration or addition of election districts to accommodate three villages that are moving their elections from March to November this year, Mr. Pendergast said. The county now has 31 election districts. 

The county's last redistricting effort was anything but simple. 

A population shift to the southern and eastern parts of the county from 1990 to 2000 created a 42 percent voter differential between the most and least populous legislative districts. 

County legislators in August 2002 approved an initial proposal that would have added an 11th legislator, but that plan was soundly defeated by county voters in a referendum that November. 

A second plan retaining a 10-member Board of Legislators but splitting the town of Lowville four ways was approved, despite opposition from some Lowville officials and residents, but didn't go into effect until the 2005 election.