Politics & Government

Population changes could force 33,100 Fayette residents into new voting districts

Thousands of residents will vote for a new Urban County Council representative next year, but it won't necessarily be a sign of dissatisfaction.

Every 10 years, council district boundary lines are redrawn, based on the latest U.S. census figures, to equalize population in the 12 districts. Candidates seek election to seats representing those districts.

Based on the 2010 census, Fayette County's population is 296,000, an increase of 13.5 percent in the past decade. The minority population is 14.5 percent of the total.

A total of 33,104 people have to be shifted into new districts. The goal is a median population of 24,650 people in each district, give or take 10 percent.

"We had to do a lot of moving around of people and precincts," said Emma Tibbs, chairwoman of the 2011 Redistricting Committee.

The proposed redistricting plan was presented to council members at a workshop meeting Tuesday morning. No formal action was taken.

But the Nov. 3 deadline for county approval — a date set by state law — is approaching. The redistricting committee began work on May 26.

The entire process has to be completed in time for council candidates to know what neighborhoods are in their districts, so they can collect the necessary signatures to get on the 2012 primary ballot, Tibbs said. Also, county clerk Don Blevins must have updated information to draw new council district maps.

Shifting individual precincts from one district to another to equalize population "is very tricky," Vice Mayor Linda Gorton told council members Tuesday. "You move one, and it has a domino effect on other districts. ... It's a very delicate process."

Redistricting guidelines — some set by state statute, others adopted by the local redistricting committee — are specific about considerations in drawing new boundaries, Tibbs said. Precincts are not to be split. When they have to be moved, they are to be moved into a contiguous district.

"We also tried not to break up neighborhood associations," Tibbs said. "We didn't want neighborhoods to end up with two council representatives."

Another priority was to keep council members in their current districts.

Deviation in population among the 12 districts should not exceed 10 percent, city attorney Keith Horn said. The plan presented Tuesday has 10.76 percent deviation. "It would be better to have the deviation under that number, based on court rulings, but I think it is a defensible plan," he said.

Council member Chris Ford expressed concern about the 10.76 percent deviation, saying council members should represent "as close as possible to the same number of people."

He suggested shifting Shandon Park from District 1 to District 12. "That would alleviate the deviation problem and bring the overall deviation closer to 10 percent."

But that would push District 12 over its ideal size, Gorton said. "This is a very delicate process, achieving equal size," she said.

The committee also had to be aware of potential growth areas and allow for the population to increase in certain districts, Tibbs said.

Districts 2 and 12 have the largest areas platted for growth by the city's Planning Commission, so those districts will have the highest future growth. Districts 6 and 7 will have medium growth, and District 9 a minimum amount. Other districts will have little to no growth.

Growth in the county has been uneven. Districts 1, 3 and 5 lost population and had to have people added, Tibbs said.

Districts 2 and 12 saw the greatest increases.

District 12 covers outlying areas of the county. District 2, west of downtown, grew to 33,073 residents, according to the 2010 census. More than 9,000 people had to be moved to reduce the district to 23,700.

Gorton said she might call a committee of the whole meeting of council members so they can discuss the plan and perhaps make small changes. However, within the next month, the redistricting effort must have two readings and be approved by the council.

Council member Kevin Stinnett said after the meeting that he considered the plan "pretty good for everybody."

"The five months of work represented a good effort and a great amount of work. I don't think it should be changed," he said.