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Sarasota County
Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019 2 weeks ago

County redistricting work draws questions

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A consultant's population estimate indicated a larger gap between the largest and smallest commission districts than staff's projections did.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

A county-hired consultant estimated the population difference between the largest and smallest County Commission districts in Sarasota is more than 10,000 residents, a number that would exceed a threshold used to determine whether a district map is acceptable.

Tallahassee-based consultant Kurt Spitzer and Associates shared its preliminary population estimates with the county earlier this month as officials consider redrawing boundary lines ahead of the 2020 election and prior to getting data from the 2020 census. The estimates differ from county staff projections, which placed the district populations within a permissible range.

Spitzer’s estimates peg the population of District 5 in south Sarasota at 89,824, and  the population of District 2, which includes portions of the city of Sarasota and Longboat Key, at 79,590.

Districts are generally considered to be constitutional if the largest and smallest districts deviate less than 10% from the “ideal district,” the hypothetical district size if the county were divided into five equal districts. The consultant’s data indicates there is a 12.3% spread between District 2 and District 5 relative to the ideal district size of 83,272.

County staff estimated there was a 9.1% spread between the largest and smallest districts.

The consultant’s data differs 0.3% on the overall population estimate in Sarasota County and 0.4% on the population in District 2. The two estimates differ by more than 2,000 residents, or 2.6%, for District 5.

A county spokesperson said the consultant is scheduled to present its final report to the County Commission on Aug. 27.

As the county moves forward, the city of Sarasota is the latest municipality to question the consideration of a new map. At its July 15 meeting, the City Commission approved sending a letter to the county asking about the cost and methodology for redistricting.

“Being one of the five cities within Sarasota County, I think we have an obligation from a fiscal perspective to ask the questions with regard to whether or not this is an action that is required,” City Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie said.

The county spent $16,000 for the consultant’s population estimates. After the County Commission receives the report, the board may choose to proceed with additional work with the consultant that would include drawing proposals for new maps and holding community meetings on redistricting.

The county issued a waiver foregoing a competitive bid for a consultant and estimated the total expenditures associated with the project at $50,000. Precise fees for future phases are still subject to negotiation, according to the contract with Kurt Spitzer and Associates.

County Commission Chairman Charles Hines said the county was conducting due diligence after a referendum mandated a transition from a countywide vote for all five seats to single-member district elections.

“That doesn’t affect the cities,” Hines said. “I don’t know who’s pushing the point to ask all these questions, but I think they’ll be answered in August.”

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