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Santa Rosa population at 188,000 following census

Santa Rosa County

Santa Rosa County saw a population increase of 23% between 2010 and 2020. That’s more than 35,000 people, bringing the total to 188,000, according to a presentation Tuesday morning to the Santa Rosa County commissioners.

Because the state Constitution requires redistricting after every U.S. census to address population changes, the county has to divide those 188,000 people into five districts with each commissioner representing about 37,600.

Tanya Gallagher, coordinator of the county’s Geographical Information Systems, on Tuesday made a presentation with a proposal to make the districts as equitable as possible, based on population. That proposal would shift 2,490 residents currently living north of the East River, an easily identifiable, natural barrier, in District 4, the most populated district, and move them to District 2.

“This would be the least amount of change possible and still meet the criteria needed,” Gallagher said, adding the proposal would keep blocks of residents together. Commissioner Dave Piech represents District 4. Commissioner Bob Cole represents District 2.

Gallagher said the proposal keeps the district geographically and all five would fall within 5% F of the goal of 37,600.

Despite Gallagher’s presentation, there was little appetite for changing the district boundaries.

 This map shows the proposed changes to the Santa Rosa County districts based on the population growth.
This map shows the proposed changes to the Santa Rosa County districts based on the population growth.

District 3 Commissioner James Calkins, whose district would not be affected by the proposal, asked Gallagher for additional options, especially after citizens participate in a survey next month. He also pushed to see an option where districts stay the same. He said the pandemic affected census participation, skewing the numbers in the proposal.

District 1 Commissioner Sam Parker also told Gallagher he was leaning toward keeping the districts the same.

Regardless of population shifts, commissioners are elected at large, so each faces all county voters every four years. Since the district lines cannot be shifted in an election year — seats in districts 2 and 4 are up for election in 2022 — the current districts would remain intact until the next census.

Cole, who suggested commissioners do nothing, expressed concern about future growth in the north end of the county. Hundreds of homes have been approved in areas around Pace, Pea Ridge, and East Milton. Gallagher said the current districts have to be based on population shifts. Future populations would be addressed in the 2030 census.

County officials are seeking resident feedback on the proposed redistricting that was presented Tuesday. The public can comment until 4:30 p.m. Nov. 4.

A county news release said residents may review the proposed changes and provide feedback at tinyurl.com/SRCredistricting. Results will be presented at the Nov. 9 commission regular meeting.

Possible breakout:

To the extent practicable, district lines will be adopted using the following criteria:

  • Geographically contiguous districts (each commission district should share a common border with the next).
  • The geographic integrity of local neighborhoods or communities shall be respected in a manner that minimizes its division.
  • Geographic integrity of a city shall be respected in a manner that minimizes its division.
  • Easily identifiable boundaries that follow natural or artificial barriers (rivers, streets, highways, rail lines, etc.).
  • Lines shall be drawn to encourage geographic compactness.
  • In addition, boundaries shall not be drawn for purposes of favoring or discriminating against a political party or candidate.

For questions or more information, contact the Santa Rosa County GIS Department at gisteam@santarosa.fl.gov.

Tom Ninestine is the managing editor at WUWF. He began August 1, 2019. Tom is a native of Geneva, New York, and a 1983 graduate of King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where he studied journalism and political science. During a 29-year career in newspapers he worked for the Finger Lakes Times in his hometown; The Daily Item in Sunbury, Pennsylvania; and the Pensacola News Journal from 1998-2016.