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East County Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021 7 months ago

Manatee County commissioners set to discuss redistricting

Growth in eastern Manatee County has make the districts' populations uneven.
by: Scott Lockwood Staff Writer

The last time the district lines were drawn for the Manatee County Commission 10 years ago, eastern Manatee County was just starting the population boom it has seen over the past decade.

In an effort to lead to fair representation on the board that establishes policies, commission redistricting is revisited every 10 years. Manatee County Commissioners will take a look at the 2020 census data that shows Manatee County had 406,945 residents and go over potential redistricting plans at a workshop Oct. 19.

“All five districts in Manatee County will be affected,” said District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who represents the Lakewood Ranch area. “The lines will have to change on all of them.”

Baugh’s district has seen the biggest growth in terms of development and population and has a population of 97.536 according to the census. She said that she’s not concerned about anything more than fair representation on the board. When districts are drawn, the populations are separated into five districts with as equal of a population that can be possible.

“I think the main thing is for my district, I realized the lines have to change,” she said. “My district right now it's the largest landmass in Manatee County and the most overpopulated so it is something that needs to change.”

Baugh said the population of a district affects the communication between the commissioner and constituents. When the districts are balanced, the commissioners can share that task evenly.

"You have to be able to communicate properly," Baugh said.

District 1, which is the northeastern part of Manatee County represented by Commissioner James Satcher, has 90,768 residents. By comparison District 4, which is the southwestern part of the county represented by Misty Servia, has 74,176 residents. 

District 2, made up of part of Bradenton and Palmetto, has 70,831 residents represented by Commissioner Reggie Bellamy. Keith Van Ostenbridge’s District 3, the west side of Bradenton including the islands, has 73,634 residents.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore was in office the last time the district lines were redrawn after the 2010 census. As an at-large commissioner, she represents the entire county.

“I do see that the districts out east and north are the districts that have grown tremendously,” she said. “So I am positive that the lines will be moving to make the populations more fair.”

Whitmore said the population growth can be attributed to many factors, such as Florida’s economy ranking as the 15th largest in the world.

“Florida has a great quality of life, no income tax and people want to move here,” Whitmore said. "Manatee County has been one of the fastest growing counties in the state of Florida, mainly because of again, our quality of life and low taxes. Since I've been in office, we have not raised our millage. And in fact, we lowered it twice because we are doing so well. We just lowered it this year again.”

Commissioner George Kruse, who like Whitmore has an at-large seat, said that maps presented so far have been drawn using things like Interstate 75 for district lines. That will change once the software used by consultant John Guthrie levels out the population.

“None of those maps are actually viable options, because none of them were done with real data,” Kruse said. “With that software you can literally grab a line and move it one street over and it adjusts and shows you exactly what the population is.”

Whitmore said a consultant wasn’t used after the 2010 census and that this is a good way to keep redistricting transparent.

“What I am concerned with, of course, is making sure that the process is transparent and that every district is treated fairly and every citizen is treated fairly,” Baugh said. “I think that's the main thing at this point.”

Kruse said that Tuesday’s workshop is the first major step in the discussion. The commission is within 60 days of its final regularly scheduled meeting of 2021 on December 14 and is aiming to have the final district maps approved by that date.

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