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Santa Rosa commissioners refuse to redraw district boundaries

SRC Commissioners.jpg
Santa Rosa County

Santa Rosa County’s commissioners on Tuesday unanimously ignored the additional 35,000 people who are in the county — based on the 2020 census — as well as the state Constitution, when they refused to alter the boundaries of Districts 2 and 4. Commissioners disputed a proposal that included a population increase of 23% to 188,000 between 2010 and 2020.

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, last month offered a proposal to make the districts’ population as equitable as possible. That proposal would have shifted 2,490 residents living north of the East River, 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 last month, adding the proposal would keep blocks of residents together. Commissioner Dave Piech represents District 4. Commissioner Bob Cole represents District 2.

Gallagher again told commissioners on Tuesday the proposal keeps the districts geographically sound and all five would fall within 5% of the goal of 37,600. She said a survey of county residents yielded 116 responses — less than one-half of one percent. Of those responding, 50 favored the proposal, 28 were against and 38 were unsure.

District 3 Commissioner James Calkins, whose district would not have been affected by the proposal, pointed out that a majority of respondents — 66 — were against the proposal or had no opinion. He also pointed out that the sample size of the survey was too small to be effective.

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

District 1 Commissioner Sam Parker, whose district also was not affected by the proposal, said he was concerned about the geographic size of the proposed District 2. He said having a district that stretches from Milton and East Milton south to unincorporated Holley would be a challenge for a commissioner from Milton or Bagdad to be responsive and effective in the southern portion of that district.

Cole, who has served since 2002, said regardless of population shifts, the five commissioners are elected at large and should respond accordingly.

As it stands, Cole and Calkins represent the largest districts in terms of geography. When it comes to population, however, Parker, Piech, and District 5 Commissioner Colten Wright have districts where the population is more concentrated.

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 2023 at the earliest.

In other Santa Rosa County news, commissioners accepted a $499,075 award from the EPA Gulf of Mexico Division’s Healthy and Resilient Gulf of Mexico in the category for “Building Community Resilience Through the Reduction and Prevention of Nonpoint Source Pollution.”

“This funding opportunity allows Santa Rosa County to create a project of innovative green stormwater infrastructure practices to address and improve impaired waters within the Pensacola Bay Watershed,” the county said in a news release after the meeting.

“This project seeks to demonstrate the effective design, implementation, and maintenance of green infrastructure including vegetated bioswales (channels that handle stormwater runoff), tree boxes, and permeable surface throughout the 8.6-acre Santa Rosa County Administrative Complex.

“This effort is in partnership with the University of Florida Milton Watershed Lab as a sub-recipient, UF/IFAS for the outreach and education component, and the county's environmental and grants department for project management and monitoring.”

“We are thrilled to have been one of the selected projects in this competitive application process," Naisy Dolar, grants and RESTORE program manager,” said in the release. "Our team believes that showcasing green infrastructure is a good step toward tackling the challenges we face in handling stormwater and water quality issues throughout the county."

“The goal is to educate visitors, employees, the building industry and community leaders about the benefits of green infrastructure practices as well as monitor and collect data on the ability of these structural best management practices to reduce pollutant loads entering the Blackwater River,” the release said, adding the project is to be completed in three years beginning in late spring 2022 and ending in summer 2025.

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.