Members of the Cortland County Redistricting Commission resumed talks at a meeting on Wednesday, following a failed vote on new county legislative map.
Members of the commission discussed the possibility of bringing more lawmakers to the commission, as well as a representative from the town of Cortlandville.
As part of the apportionment process that takes place every 10 years after the release of U.S. Census numbers, the county redraws its legislative boundaries to be able to provide fair representation to residents based on updated population numbers. .
The latest census data indicates that there has been a 5.1% decline in population countywide since 2010. This has raised questions about the number of legislative seats in the county going forward.
For each district, there must be a 5% increase or decrease in the proportional number of inhabitants per district. In the case of the county, if they were to maintain the current 17 legislative seats, that would mean the district must remain within 5% above or below approximately 2,753 residents. This number is the total population of Cortland County divided by the 17 districts.
The maps proposed by the commission did not generate consensus among lawmakers due to a a multitude of comments made by residents of the towns of Virgil and Cortlandville. These maps would retain the 17 legislative seats spread across the county and cause confusion among voters and officials in those cities.
Lawmakers now have until May 2023 to reach an agreement before local legislative elections, as well as to review the intricacies of county government and propose potential reforms.
On Wednesday, lawmakers sought to chart a course for the next year of meetings. New changes to the commission were reflected, with Cathy Bischoff (D-LD-3) and Kelly Preston (R-LD-10) now taking on the role of co-chairs of the commission.
“I think the more lawmakers we can have on this committee, the more likely we are to have our proposal passed,” Preston said of appointing more lawmakers. “Last time, constant communication from just five lawmakers didn’t work out so well.”
Eric Mulvihill, a member of the commission’s Citizens’ Advisory Council and an economic development specialist at the county’s BDC, disagreed with Preston.
“The law is quite specific. It’s organized like that,” he said. “I feel like we’re trying to get the law to satisfy a process that people want, rather than getting in there and doing the job. If this group can present a valid proposal, then the legislator should approve it on its own merits.
Lawmakers, according to Speaker of the Legislature Kevin Fitch (R-LD8), said any lawmaker can observe and provide input to the commission.
“We can have all the advice in the world,” he said. “But until the legislature approves it, we’re going to be back here.”
As the discussion progressed, Mulvihill suggested that the final redistricting product of these commission meetings should be put to a public vote. Mulvihill called this the “ultimate check and balance”.
“This is one of the few items submitted to the referendum ballot that is eligible for the public,” he added. “This is an area where the public absolutely has a say and has an opportunity to weigh in. The public has not been shy in the past about structural changes to this county government.”
Cortland County Planning Director Trisha Jesset said a public referendum could complicate voter education.
“It’s all about data, that’s how decisions are made,” she said. “It would be difficult, my job, to present data to the public to make an informed decision.”
The committee will continue discussions at future meetings.