April 9, 2001

Ithaca May Lose County Seat as Population Dips

Print More

Because of a dip in population, Ithaca may lose one of its seats on the Tompkins County Board of Representatives. The possible redistricting could also affect the Common Council, Ithaca’s city council.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city’s population decreased by 0.8 percent, leaving the city with 29,287 residents.

In order for all 15 districts of the County Board to be equally represented, the city may be down-sized into four or eight wards. With its present population, Ithaca is entitled to 4.5 seats on the County Board to be elected in the fall.

Ithaca presently has five wards. These wards are used for both the County Board and Common Council elections One representative from each ward legislates on the County Board. Ten representatives sit on the Common Council, two from each ward.

The option of Ithaca keeping all five of its current seats on the County Board is still open.

“We may have to redo wards to make everything parallel,” County Board chairwoman Barbara Mink ’85 (D-City of Ithaca) said.

“Our charter says that we should respect municipal lines,” the county’s Charter Review Committee chairman said. “One of the wards may have to share with the town [of Ithaca] or Cayuga Heights.”

If the wards are redrawn the constituencies of the Common Council will be altered as a result.

“I really doubt that there will be any significant changes,” said Alderwoman Patricia Cartwright Vaughan (D-3rd Ward) ’61, Ithaca’s liaison to the Charter Review Committee.

“We are required to be within five percent of the ‘one person, one vote’ idea,” she said.

Officials are trying to finish any redistricting as soon as possible. All of the County Board seats are up for re-election this year. Candidates will also have the opportunity to run for five of the ten Common Council seats this fall. Candidates for the County Board and Common Council have to make petitions in June for nominations.

For the reapportionment changes to be accepted, voters have to vote in a referendum for the districts to become valid. There must be a 60-day notice before a referendum is held. That deadline was missed for a referendum before June.

The new changes will most likely be voted on in September, ideally the same day as the primary.

“We at the county level will help them [Ithaca officials] or let them make their own plan. We are on a strict time limit,” Mink said.

Officials would like to have a preliminary reapportionment set before June though, so that the candidates would know their prospective districts.

“I hope to keep all five wards. Having four wards would be difficult; with eight wards, the representation would be so small. We had eight wards before, but it wasn’t successful,” Vaughan said.

“We want to keep the same lines within the city for both elections,” he added.

Several concepts have been considered to offset the possible problems with the fall elections. Terms for the County Board and Common Council lawmakers may be reduced to two years instead of four. Ithaca residents would have to vote in a referendum for this to happen.

“We hope not [to change the terms], but there is always the possibility,” Vaughan said.

Another idea is using a weighted vote system for the County Board elections if the possible reapportionment is not finished in time.

“Adopting a weighted system is when one vote may be stronger since he or she will represent more or less people,” Lane said.

“This happened in 1980, and there were a lot of lawsuits. We want to avoid that,” he added.

If Ithaca loses one representative, Lane said, the city should still be able to lobby effectively.

“Frankly, there seems to be a commonality, in Cayuga Heights and other

towns. Even if they had a representative out of city boundaries, I don’t think that they would lose clout,” he said.

Archived article by Kelly Samuels