County Council gets first glimpse of redistricting challenges

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County Council gets first glimpse of redistricting challenges

By JOSH McCANN
jmccann@islandpacket.com
843-706-8145
Published Monday, November 29, 2010   |  557 Words  |  

Once details of the recent census arrive early next year, Beaufort County Council members will have to figure out how to redraw their 11 districts.

That will be a difficult task because some districts' demographics have changed dramatically since the last census a decade ago, Bobby Bowers, director of the S.C. Budget and Control Board's Office of Research and Statistics, said Monday.

"You have an unusual task," Bowers told the council. "You've got districts that have grown substantially, and you've got districts that just haven't grown at all."

Overall, the county now has about 155,000 residents, Bowers estimated, compared to 121,000 people in 2000.

That means each district, which once contained 11,000 people, will need to be redrawn to represent 3,000 more.

Getting to those numbers to align will be complicated, Bowers said. He didn't have the latest population figures by district, so used the number of registered voters to illustrate population growth. For example, some districts have 14,000 registered voters alone, meaning the population of the district is much higher than that and will have to shrink.

District 10 - represented by Sun City Hilton Head resident Jerry Stewart - contained 10,524 residents in 2000 and now has almost 19,000 registered voters alone, Bowers said.

Council also must consider several other factors when redrawing districts, Bowers said. Those include tracking the percentage of minorities in various districts, avoiding splitting voting precincts between districts if possible and keeping districts contiguous.

Juggling the racial makeup of districts could prove particularly bedeviling because many of the county's new arrivals are white, Bowers said.

Council Chairman Weston Newton said council members likely would pick a subcommittee to lead the process, which he said would include several public hearings.

Council will receive detailed census data in February or March.

Once council settles on a plan, it must be submitted to the U.S. Justice Department for review in time for the next council elections in 2012, Bowers said.

"I know there's got to be some major shifts," he said. "It's going to be an interesting process."

In other action, council:

  • Voted to extend the contract of county administrator Gary Kubic for another year through 2013. Citing the recession, Kubic requested no increase in his $169,600 salary.

    Councilman Paul Sommerville said Kubic has shown leadership ability and intellect and built "a quality team," according to county spokeswoman Suzanne Larson.

  • Voted to ask the S.C. Department of Health & Environmental Control to reconsider its decision to use pollutant concentrations rather than total stormwater volume when determining what development to allow near the Okatie River, where fecal coliform levels already exceed water quality standards for shellfishing.
  • Approved on third and final reading an ordinance to extend the sunset date to 2020 for the 97.8-acre Greenheath planned-unit development on Lady's Island. It also approved a development agreement with Greenheath's developers, the Gleason Place limited partnership.
  • Appointed former Air Force and airline pilot Richard Wirth of Hilton Head Island to the county's Airports Board and nominated Doris Williams, a retired professor and Bluffton resident, to the county's Foster Care Review Board.
  • Approved the Bluffton Fire District's request to buy about 9 acres for about $1.2 million for the relocation of Station 30.