WESTERN SAN JUANS – With state statutes requiring counties to reshape their commissioner district boundaries every 10 years, the population equalization process can, in some cases, lead to dramatic changes that may change the political landscape of who can run for a particular county commissioner seat. As redistricting plans in Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel counties take shape, with the exception of Ouray County, dramatic boundary shifts are not taking place and the plans, so far, have faced little public opposition.
The redistricting process, which is completed every decade after the latest census data is compiled, is meant to ensure that the districts in each county are as nearly equal in population as possible. With three commissioner districts in Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel counties, commissioner candidates, come election season, must live within the district they reside in to be considered for office, although the vote for that district seat is countywide.
The only impact of redistricting would be a change in the pools of eligible commissioner candidates. The largest impact redistricting could have on a county is if a new redistricting plan shifts a particular district boundary and effectively redistricts a sitting commissioner out of his or her eligibility for their district seat. Ouray County’s proposed redistricting plan proposes just that for sitting Commissioner Heidi Albritton’s seat, but because she is term limited, so far it is a non-issue.
This was discussed in a public presentation held last week at the 4-H Event Center in Ridgway, where Albritton said the population in the three existing districts in Ouray County had grown out of balance in the last 10 years. Ouray County’s population grew by about 700 over the decade, from 3742 in 2000 to 4436 according to the 2010 census. Districts I and III grew proportionally, while District II dropped in percentage share to 30.8 percent (the ideal is 33.3 percent for each district).
Another important reason for redrawing the lines had to do with what Ouray County GIS Analyst Jeff Bockes called the “pinwheel layout” of the old map. All three districts converged in the center of Ridgway.
“You could conceivably have three commissioners from the town of Ridgway,” Albritton said.
Also, the old line dividing Districts II and III sliced down the center of the city of Ouray, along Hwy 550. “That’s why you could have two commissioners from Ouray,” Albritton said, “as we did when Keith Meinert and I were elected.” As is the case today with Albritton and Commissioner Mike Fedel, who both live in Ouray.
The proposed new map, drawn up by Bockes and County Clerk Michele Nauer (following precinct lines wherever possible), is more of a “Neapolitan [ice cream] layout,” Bockes said, with districts layered north-south. The northern district (Dist. 1) includes Log Hill, Colona and Pleasant Valley. District II is the southern layer, encompassing all of the city of Ouray. District III includes Ridgway, Cow Creek and Miller Mesa. So each major geographic area of the county should be represented on the board.
Old and new maps, still in the proposal stages, are available for viewing on the county website.
Albritton joked that, “The proposed new map is cleverly drawn to eliminate one commissioner: me! What are the words I’m looking for? Lame duck.” Albritton is term-limited and cannot run in 2012, so it was decided that the new layout would eliminate or, more accurately, merge part of her old district with Fedel’s.
When asked if this proposed plan would likely be adopted without any comments from the public, both commissioners Albritton and Fedel said at the meeting that they would likely vote to approve the plan.
“I think this needed to happen,” Albritton said.
“Me too,” said Fedel. “I feel comfortable with this, feel confident (about) where it comes from.”
The public comment period on Ouray County’s redistricting plan remains open until the next BOCC meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 23.
Minor Population Gains, Minor Redistricting Needed in San Miguel and Montrose Counties
Both San Miguel and Montrose counties are further along in approving each of their redistricting plans, as the plans have already been presented in public hearings and have, at least, been approved on first reading.
In San Miguel County, the overall population grew from 6,594 to 7,359 over the past ten years with a large portion of that growth occurring in the town of Mountain Village. Under the current district boundaries, District I, which mainly encompasses the town of Telluride, grew by only four people over the past decade, from 2,221 to 2,225. Mountain Village, which lies in the county’s District II, grew by 336 people, from 978 to 1,314.
The growth in Mountain Village means that District 1 will need to encompass more geographic area and population in order to balance district populations. The current redistricting plan, which was approved upon first reading on Aug. 9, subtracts population from District 2 and adds it to District 1. With the new redistricting plan in place, San Miguel County’s District I will have a population of 2,497, District II will have a population of 2,459, and District III’s population will be 2,403.
“This is pretty straight forward,” Commissioner Art Goodtimes said. “We tried to keep it as close as we could.”
“It’s a pretty minor change,” Commissioner Joan May added. “The boundaries changed in a way that keeps the character of all three districts intact.”
On Aug. 1, the Montrose County Commissioners approved its redistricting plan, and like San Miguel County, the new plan focused on minor changes to accommodate population growth within one of its Districts.
Montrose County Commissioner David White said District I, which encompasses the city of Montrose, grew the most over the last decade and a minor boundary change that transfers some of its population to District II was all that was needed to equalize all three Districts in Montrose County.
In the new plan, District I will now have a population of 13,720, District II will have a population of 13,742 and in District III the population will be 13,769.
“Unless you really look at the two boundary maps closely, you would notice very little change,” White said. “The city of Montrose grew in population and pretty much all that happened was the boundaries for two of the commissioner districts changed slightly to accommodate that growth.”
“We (undertook this) in order to get a fair and equitable number of taxpayers in each of the three districts,” Commissioner Ron Henderson said. “I think with the maneuvers that were done, we were within the differential in all three districts. They are all very equitable and very close and it was a good thing to have done.”
New redistricting maps and information for all three counties are available at each of the county websites.