04/20/11 — Wayne eyes changes in population

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Wayne eyes changes in population

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 20, 2011 1:46 PM

Wayne County's population growth of 9,288 and shifts in what areas of the county they live in means that three of county's six voting districts will have to give up residents, while the other three will need to add more people to meet the federal one-person, one-vote standard.

And the process of adjusting the district lines for county commissioners and school board could take up to a year. However, unlike the city of Goldsboro, the county will not have to postpone its next election that is not scheduled until 2012.

Commissioners would approve any changes in the districts. However, U.S. Justice Department approval is required as well.

"The first thing that you have to have is basic equality in the size of the districts to comply with the federal constitutional demand of one person, one vote," County Attorney Borden Parker told commissioners at their Tuesday meeting. "You have to have equality of numbers in districts.

"Then you have to look and see if there is a possibility to have minority districts. When the county was sued several years ago to go to districts from at large (seats), it was determined there was an ability to draw districts that would allow minorities to elect individuals of their choice. That is different than saying you have to elect a minority."

County Planner Connie Price Tuesday morning briefed commissioners on just-released census information for the county that shows that the population has grown from 113,335 in 2000 to 122,623 in 2010.

Hispanics account for 70 percent of the growth increasing by 6,558 with the heaviest population in southeastern Wayne County.

In contrast, the black population grew by 877 and the white population by 418. The remaining increase of 1,435 consists of Native Americans, Asians, Hawaiians and others. The black population is heaviest in the Mount Olive and Dudley areas and in areas of Goldsboro.

Price said that districts have to be roughly the same in population. Dividing the population count of 122,623 by 6, the number of districts, equates to 20,437 people per district, he said.

Price said that based on 20,437 per district that:

* District 1 represented by Andy Anderson would have to give up 4,169

* District 2, one of two minority districts, represented by J.D. Evans would have to add 4,479

* District 3, another minority district, represented by John Bell would have to add 2,891

* District 4 represented by Steve Keen would have to give up 2,633 people

* District 5 represented by Bud Gray would have to give up 2,607

* District 6 represented by Jack Best would have to add 2,038.

Keen questioned whether populations gains in the county and losses in Goldsboro would affect funding that is based on populations.

County Manager Lee Smith said that could happen and that the county could pick up additional funding including grants and entitlements.

Smith said he would take such issues on a case-by-case basis.

It could also affect sales taxes that are based on population, he said.

"I will say that it will help us, but you have to look at the state as a whole because if the growth was greater as a percentage in the state, you could actually go down," he said. "In other words, because their pieces of the pie get bigger. We have to look at the whole state and how we compare to the whole state. We will have to see how that plays out with the Department of Revenue."

There are other economic implications, particularly for those who might look at the county, Smith said.

"Do we as a chain store want to locate in Wayne County?" Smith said. "There are things we have not had a shot at before that we may have now."

Keen then asked if commissioners and City Council needed to take a joint look at how the funding could be affected.

"I do not want to oversimplify, but they are totally separate issues," Smith said. "The city is going to have its set of equations as far as how things are calculated and what they are eligible for. They are totally separate, and they are going to be totally out of our control.

"If it is federally guided, it is a done deal. If it is state, it is a done deal. So we won't really have anything to say about it other than yes (the county is) eligible or we or not."

Keen said he was aware of different people who look at redistricting and keep it "sort of non-biased." He asked whom the county would use and what software package would be utilized to draw district lines.

Parker said the county had used consultant Bobby Bowers of South Carolina during the past two redistrictings. Bowers is an expert who also is used by the city of Goldsboro and is very familiar with the county, he said.

Since Bowers is working for the city he will have its census information on the county, Parker said.

"Goldsboro needs its done first because its election comes first," Parker said. "He has already been up here one time and met with them. One of the problems right now Goldsboro faces is there is a bill to de-annex a part of Goldsboro. Until the Legislature decides to do that, he can't do anything for Goldsboro, but he has least got census data. I have sent him some information that he has asked of me."

Keen asked if the software would allow the county to have different redistricting scenarios to consider.

Parker said he was the "wrong person" speak about software. He said that Bowers would meet with each commissioner prior to drafting a proposal.

Parker said in his opinion that Bowers is well-experienced in how to use census data to select the number of people who would be approved by the U.S. Justice Department.

Keen asked if the public would be aware when Bowers presents his options and if there would be public meetings.

Parker said public input is important to any decision about districts and that the county would hold informal and formal hearings on Bowers' proposals. The proposed new district maps will be posted in county offices and will be posted on the county's website as well, Smith said.

"I really wanted to follow up a little more on Commissioner Keen's question -- it is the board of county commissioners who decides where the district lines are going to be," Parker said. "(Bowers) can come up with recommendations. Somebody else can come up and say, 'No. I don't like his at all. Here is the way you ought to do it.'

"But the final decision is made by county commissioners. The two things you have really got to be aware of is one person, one vote. So you can't have a great big population in your district and almost nobody in Mr. Best's district. The other thing if it is possible you have got to have districts to the extent possible to allow minorities to be able to elect a representative of their choice."

Parker also reminded commissioners that when they set their districts that they also set the school board districts.

Once adopted by commissioners, the plan is sent to the U.S. Justice Department, which has 60 days to let the county know if it approves the plan, he said. However, the department gets another 60 days every time it asks for more information.

"They have done that to us before," Parker said.

Best effectively ended the questioning when he asked Parker if Bowers had been hired.

Parker said that Bowers, a recognized expert with 30 years of experience, has been hired.

Parker said he was unsure when Bowers would have his first draft ready. He said that he would try to have more information about the time frame before the board's next meeting.

However, Parker said he expected Bowers to have something for the board to look at by mid-summer. The last time the county redrew district lines the process took more than a year, Smith said.