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City redistricting begins

By Staff
Growth continues west
By Thomas Tingle
Record Managing Editor
City council redistricting efforts are now under way in Madison.
Mayor Jan Wells said following the growth of Madison from 1990-2000, the city grew by 98 percent during those 10 years, therefore, drastically changing the residential makeup of the seven city council districts within the city limits.
The last redistricting was done after the 1990 census figures were made available to go into effect with the next elected governing body, which was in Oct. 1992. The 1990 census figure showed Madison with 14,792 residents. The 2000 census figure showed Madison with 29,329 residents. Two years since the census figures were released, Madison's population has continued to grow to more than 30,000 residents.
"Since the next municipal election cycle starts one year prior to the 2004 municipal elections, the redistricting plan must be approved and in place by Aug. 2003," Wells said. "The council has agreed that this issue must be pursued to reflect the best interests of the residents."
As an example of the need for redistricting, the mayor said District 7, under the leadership of Councilman Bob Wagner, is more than three times larger in population numbers than most of the current districts.
According to Madison Community Department Director Bob Atallo, in 1990, each district had between 2,000 to 2,300 people. Since then, some districts have grown tremendously.
"As law requires, all of the city districts must be reapportioned to accurately reflect the population levels within the areas of the city that have been developed over the past 10 years," Wells said. "This will allow for a more balanced representation of the city council within each individual council district."
The mayor said there are several ways the city can pursue the redistricting efforts. It includes the utilization of outside consultants who specialize in redistricting methods or techniques. Another way is in-house development of plan utilizing commercially available software programs specific to the process. The mayor said city council development or the use of a specially appointed citizen task force to help guide the entire process to its completion could be done.
"Redistricting is simply dividing the city into seven equal districts," Atallo said. "As a small city, we use what is called block level data from the census – that is, the census divides the city into small geographic areas used by the census and can vary in size from 10 or so to 200 or more people. The city assembles the blocks into seven more-or-less equal districts."
"Whichever method is utilized, I believe that it is in the city's best interest to pursue the method which offers the public an unbiased reapportionment plan based on an accurate reflection of the city's population and the city boundaries," Wells said. "Once complete, the reapportioned district plan should be presented to the public for its view and comments before being finalized."
Atallo said today, a software program could produce a first draft in a matter of hours."
That's just the first step," Atallo said. "The districts have to conform to a lot of state and federal regulations and that is where the committee or consultant comes in.
Atallo said redistricting in Alabama is subject to review by the U.S. Justice Department for compliance with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The city of Madison is also subject to a lawsuit that was settled in 1988 called "Dillard vs. Crenshaw County Alabama" that placed certain obligations on the city.
"It is unclear to me how these will play into our 2004 redistricting effort, which is another reason why we should have a consultant," Atallo said.
In looking at Madison today, a lot of residential development is under way in the western part of the city – off County Line Road. Back in 1990 when redistricting was done then, Atallo said the area east of Hughes Road and between Madison Pike and U.S. Highway 72 was the fastest growing part of the city. He said there was very little west of Wall-Triana Highway.
"Our current population is estimated at about 32,000. Without any rezoning or residential annexations, our potential population is $45,000 to $50,000," Atallo said. "That makes us about 65 to 70 percent built out," Atallo said.
Atallo said if the city continues to build 500 houses per year (which is average for recent years), Madison should be built out by 2015.
"This assumes no further residential annexations, no rezoning, or no significant economic problems," Atallo said. "However, as land gets scarcer and therefore, more expensive, the rate of growth will probably slow somewhat. No city is ever completely built out in my opinion though – there is always redevelopment, infill development, etc. Developers can be extremely creative in identifying new areas for development without annexations.
Mayor Wells said she'd like to see the redistricting process completed and a plan submitted for final approval by Jan. 1, 2003.

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