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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 7, 2011
Will legislature re-district or downsize?
By Anne Hayden
ALBANY COUNTY The numbers from the 2010 United States Census are in, and the county legislature’s 39 representatives might be shifted around during re-districting. Albany County’s population has increased by 3 percent to 304,204.
The results of the census also affect the percentage of sales tax revenue each municipality receives from the county annually, and the cities, towns, and villages will see the difference at the end of this month. Most municipalities rely on the sales-tax funds for the bulk of their budget revenues.
The distribution is based entirely on population. Albany County collects an 8-percent sales tax; 4 percent of that revenue goes to the state of New York, and the other 4 percent is split 60/40 between the 19 towns, villages, and cities within the county.
A formula based on population determines the amount of revenue distributed to each municipality. The formula will remain the same though the populations have changed, according to Mary Duryea, director of communications in the Albany County Executive’s office.
As municipalities consider their budgets, county Comptroller Michael Connors says it is important to remember that sales tax distribution is not based on a “per capita” formula, but on a percentage of county population formula. Last year, while encouraging municipalities to push for census completion, Connors said leaving even one person out could make a difference in sales tax distribution, which he said might have caused confusion.
The last payment was made to municipalities in January, and the next will be made at the end of April, and will reflect the population changes. Guilderland, which received $2,483,715.72 in January, grew in population by 2,615 residents over the past decade. It had one of the biggest population growths in the county, and should receive a bigger payment next quarter.
Guilderland Supervisor Kenneth Runion said roughly 90-percent of the town’s annual revenue comes from the county; most of the rest is raised through property taxes. Knox, New Scotland, and Voorheesville also grew slightly in population; Altamont, Rensselaerville and Westerlo declined.
The Village of Altamont received $133,533.93 in January; the town of New Scotland received $449,802.54; and the village of Voorheesville received $213,331.41.
The next payment, made at the end of April, will signal the end of the first quarter for 2011, said Duryea.
Redistricting or downsizing?
The Albany County Legislature Redistricting Committee met three times over the past several months, most recently at the Voorheesville Village Hall on March 31. The topic of discussion, according to Shawn Morse, chairman of the committee, has been whether re-districting or even downsizing the county legislature would make sense.
The mission of the committee, which is composed of seven members representing the two major political parties, is to review the population data and make recommendations, if necessary, in the form of a proposed local law, as to changes in the district boundaries.
The county legislature is composed of 39 elected representatives, each of whom serves a four-year term representing a legislative district.
Morse said that, although the committee has held several public hearings, there has been little community involvement on the topic of re-districting. He said the three meetings combined have drawn fewer than 50 people.
“There is a small group of people that has decided downsizing the government is the best alternative, but that was before they had the numbers to back up that opinion,” said Morse. He said the group is based out of the city of Albany.
“They had no statistics or information to base their argument on,” Morse said. The role of the committee, according to Morse, is to present multiple proposals to the legislature, on which the legislature will vote.
Technically, said Morse, re-districting takes place every 10 years, when a new federal census comes out. The current districts are based on the populations reported by the 2000 census. However, in 2007, the boundaries for six of the districts were changed, effective for the 2008 to 2011 legislative term.
In the year 2000, the population of Albany County was 298,284, with each legislator representing an average of 7,648 citizens. The budget for the legislative body itself is $2.8 million.
Timothy Carney said he is the organizer of the Albany group advocating for downsizing the government. He doesn’t call it downsizing, he calls it “rightsizing,” and the group is called “Rightsizing New York.”
In 1995, Carney ran for the legislature on a “rightsizing” platform, but did not win. He said his goal is to get Albany County in tune with the rest of the state; no other county in the state has more than 29 legislators, no matter the population.
“My proposal would be to cut the representatives from 39 to 29, and have districts with a population of 10,500 rather than 7,500,” said Carney. His primary reason for advocating downsizing is budgetary.
“As a homeowner and taxpayer, I can’t afford to pay any more than I already do,” said Carney, who lives in the city of Albany. If 10 legislators were cut, the savings would amount to nearly $300,000 annually, since each representative is paid a salary of roughly $21,000 with an additional $7,000 in benefits.
“I realize $300,000 doesn’t sound like much, but it is a good place to start. Every little bit adds up,” said Carney.
Morse, however, said that amount would be “just a drop in the bucket” in relation to the county budget.
“In some of the other legislatures across the state, representatives make over $80,000,” said Morse.
Carney’s point, however, is that most other county legislatures are much smaller. Erie County, for example, had a population of over 900,000 according to the 2000 census, with 15 representatives and a budget for itself of roughly $3.1 million.
“I think it’s right to examine the options, but it is nice to have smaller districts where legislators are able to know the districts and keep their fingers on the pulse of the community,” Morse said.
“We fully understand the $2 million is the taxpayers money, but we are trying to provide the best representation the constituents can get,” Morse continued.
Carney does not agree. He said dropping the amount of legislators would only extend each district by a few blocks or miles.
“You’re asking people to do more for the same amount of money, and they don’t want to do it,” said Carney. He believes re-districting and reducing the number of representatives would show that Albany County is progressive and moving forward, not stuck practicing the “same old politics as usual.”
Carney, who attended all three re-districting meetings, said he is not optimistic that the committee will present a proposal that includes downsizing.
“They said they were only going to discuss the boundary lines,” concluded Carney. “But I’ve done everything I can to promote this.”
Morse said the re-districting committee hopes to have a proposal ready for the legislature by June.