County Looks At Three Plans For Districts

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With the selection of three alternative plans including one designed by Payson Mayor Ray Schum Gila County has moved a step closer to reapportioning its electoral districts based on the 2000 census.

But Schum, who attended the redistricting committee meeting in Globe last week at which the finalists were chosen, believes Northern Gila County faces "an uphill battle" in achieving a redistricting that is truly representative of the population shift reflected by the census.

"The (county redistricting) committee ... is made up mostly of people from districts 2 and 3, and change comes hard," the mayor said. "They're going to fight to keep two supervisors in the southern end of the county."

Schum's plan would create two urbanized districts the Payson and Globe areas and a third rural district.

"The census shows we have to do some redistricting because the population of District 1 (which encompasses most of the Rim country) has grown to 21,844 residents," Schum said.

Districts 2 and 3 to the south now have 13,778 and 15,713 residents, respectively. Federal law requires the new districts be within 10 percent of one another according to Gila County Elections Director Dixie Mundy.

"Our goal will be to get them within five percent, and that's harder than it might seem," Mundy said. "The ideal balance would be 17,112 citizens in each district."

Schum says it's really not that difficult. His plan, which keeps Payson with Star Valley in District 1, would apportion the three districts at 17,597, 17,504 and 16,234 respectively within the five percent variation.

Under Schum's plan, District 3 would include Miami, Claypool, Central Heights and most of Globe. District 2 would include the county's remaining precincts, all of which, the mayor contends, "have one thing in common they are rural."

The other two plans are almost identical, and separate the Tonto Apache Reservation and Star Valley from Payson by placing them in District 3. They also separate Payson's Precinct 2 by placing it in District 2, which, Schum points out, "ends in the Miami area, about 85 miles away."

The three plans will now be presented at a series of public meetings before the supervisors select a final plan. Only one of the five meetings is in Payson Thursday, Sept. 6, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Inn of Payson.

Schum, who promises to make presentations to "any group that will listen to me," is concerned because he and many town officials will be at the Governor's Rural Development Conference in Nogales Sept. 6.

"The people of this area need to clearly understand what an impact this decision will have on them," Schum said.

The mayor said he has several objections to the plan favored by Southern Gila County:

It violates the county's own redistricting principles, including making districts "easily identifiable and understandable," keeping cities, towns, and other governmental jurisdictions whole, and not dividing neighborhoods.

"They have it so people on one side of the street are voting in one district, and people on the other side in another," Schum said.

As the town tries to improve relations with the Tonto Apaches, it places them in a different district and creates the impression "we don't want them."

By separating Star Valley and Payson's Precinct 2 from the rest of the Payson area, those voters are basically disenfranchised.

But his major concern is that Northern Gila County has grown dramatically over the past decade, and the plan favored by Southern Gila County fails to recognize that reality.

"Our goal is not to alienate the southern part of the county, but the population has shifted and everybody should recognize that. Payson and Star Valley ought to be represented by a supervisor," he said.

To publicize his plan, Schum will make a presentation at the Sept. 13 town council meeting. Groups wanting to schedule a presentation should contact the mayor at Town Hall.

"It's an uphill battle," the mayor said, "but I believe it can be won."

The final plan must be adopted by Dec. 1.

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