County Redistricting Commission opts to reduce number of legislators

(Photo via Cortland County).

Come the 2027 local election, Cortland County will have fewer legislative districts.

Legislators who make up the County’s Redistricting Commission voted Tuesday to reduce the number of legislators from 17 to 15. The vote was 4-1.

The move signified tangible progress after months of preparation and presentations made by legislators explaining to different municipal leaders how the process works.

As part of the apportionment process that occurs every 10 years after the U.S. Census figures are released, the county is sought to redraw its legislative boundaries to be able to provide fair representation to residents based on updated population figures. 

Census data indicates there has been a 5.1 percent decline in population across the county since 2010. It has spawned questions regarding the number of county legislative seats moving forward. 

For every district, there must be a 5 percent increase or decrease from a proportional number of residents per district. In the county’s case, a 15-seat legislature means the district must stay within 5 percent more or less than approximately 3,120 residents. This number is the total Cortland County population divided by the 15 districts.

“We have made a decision, we are moving forward. I am happy we have made that decision,” said legislator Kelly Preston (R-LD-10). 

Legislature chair Kevin Fitch (R-LD-8) said a 15-district map works for the county

“It functions well now,” he said. “There are maps out there that can be created with what we have learned from the towns, villages, and the city.”

Legislative Majority Leader George Wagner (R-LD-16) said there are municipalities who asked for the legislature to stay at 17. On Dec. 8, the Willet town board unanimously voted to send a letter to the legislature in support of keeping 17 legislators, a copy of the letter states.

Preston, a co-chair of the commission, said there needs to be more awareness of what legislators do in the community.

“I am preparing a letter to show them the many ways the county helps the municipalities,” said Preston.

Legislative Minority Leader Beau Harbin (D-LD-2) was the only member of the commission to vote “no” on the measure.

“I have advocated for fewer Cortland County legislative districts because based on the maps we have seen and the need for fair representation, I believe a 13-legislative-district approach would better meet those needs,” he told The Cortland Voice on Wednesday. “The guidelines put forth by the state for redistricting sets very clear goals for us in the process, but it also means we have to take a hard look at what would work for Cortland County.  Keeping communities together is a key goal in this whole process.”

Harbin also reflected on the failed proposal for a 17-district map that was voted down by legislators last year.

“When it failed, it was due in part to the feedback that we were breaking up communities,” he said. “My primary concern for the city of Cortland residents is that they are represented by someone who understands those needs and goals at the county level. Residents in the city deal with different challenges, have different tax burdens, work with different levels of policing, different zoning and development, and other elements from residents in Cortlandville or elsewhere.”

Now, the county will get to work on a map to present to the full legislature.

“We have to have an approved map to go with the number as well,” said Legislature Clerk Savannah Hempstead. “The county planning department will get to work on maps focusing on that number.”

Legislator Cathy Bischoff (D-LD-3) said she hopes there is a public hearing on the proposal at some point in March.