By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY — Fundamental for elections, a new redistricting plan will be introduced for initial votes during Thursday’s New Albany City Council meeting.
As legally required, the body is tasked with reforming the city’s six council districts based on population following a U.S. Census, the latest of which was taken in 2010. The council must have the redistricting plan passed or amended by the end of the year.
District boundaries determine who votes in what races in elections, as a new map could mean a person is represented by a different council member.
Redistricting in New Albany has resulted in sometimes contentious debates and even legal battles. A group filed a lawsuit against the council over what they claimed was improper redistricting standards, though the case never received a ruling as a committee was formed in 2008 to propose new boundaries.
However, the plan submitted by the redistricting committee — which consisted of council members, plaintiffs of the lawsuit and residents — was voted down by the council.
Councilman Dan Coffey was an outspoken opponent of that plan, as he accused members of the redistricting committee of attempting to “gerrymander” the districts for political gain.
Those accusations were strongly renounced by members of the committee.
Districts deviated by as many as 518 voters during last year’s municipal election, as the boundaries were based on a 2007 plan instead of the redistricting committee’s proposal.
Some members of that committee said the 2007 plan would not have passed legal scrutiny had it been challenged in court.
But the plan set to be voted on Thursday isn’t expected to cause as much debate. An uneventful public hearing was held on the plan in September, and Councilman Kevin Zurschmiede will introduce it for the first two of three readings.
“I feel like it’s really fair for everybody,” Zurschmiede said.
Unlike the 2008 committee plan, the current proposal wouldn’t shift any current council members to other districts, according to Zurschmiede.
“It’s just pretty much equalizing the numbers,” he said.
The voter deviations per district will be less than 1 percent if the plan is approved by the council, Zurschmiede continued. Councilman Bob Caesar joined Coffey and Zurschmiede on a committee to study and formulate the plan.
Zurschmiede said they were assisted by Council Attorney Matthew Lorch and Floyd County Clerk Linda Moeller. Councilman Pat McLaughlin said there doesn’t appear to be much difference in District 4, which he represents, under the new plan. The map lines are somewhat jagged in areas, but McLaughlin said that’s just a small concern.
“When you’re trying to cut it and bring it within these numbers, I can’t really have too many complaints,” he said.
$300k for Street department shortfall
The state cut the New Albany Street Department’s near $1.5 million budget by $445,000 this year, thus the council will be asked to appropriate riverboat funds to offset the shortfall.
The administration has requested the council approve a $300,000 appropriation for the Motor Vehicle Fund, which foots the street department.
McLaughlin is sponsoring the appropriation, which is set for first and second readings Thursday.
“It’s pretty conservative considering it was cut by that much,” he said of $300,000 move.
McLaughlin said since the MVH budget has been consistently cut by the state in recent years, the call for the appropriation didn’t come as a surprise.
The 2013 budget calls for more funds to be allocated for the street department. Though paving isn’t the department’s only duty, McLaughlin said he’s considering proposing a larger funding campaign for resurfacing beyond the slated up tick in financing for next year.
McLaughlin said such an all encompassing program could involve bonding in order to pave several streets and alleys within a short period of time. He added more discussion with the administration will be necessary before such a plan would be introduced by him.
Police asking for gasoline funding
The New Albany Police Department is also on pace to fall short of its budget unless the council agrees to appropriate funding for gasoline expenses.
The department and administration are requesting $127,200 appropriation from the riverboat fund of which $87,000 would be used for gasoline expenses.
The remaining $40,200 would be used to pay for vacation sell back and specialty pay.
Zurschmiede said the request doesn’t come as a surprise either as the council had been alerted by the department previously that it would likely have a shortfall in its gasoline budget line item.
The council meeting is slated to begin at 7:30 p.m. in the third-floor Assembly Room of the City-County Building.