Minor adjustment could accomplish redistricting

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

October 20, 2021

Based on the latest census numbers, it appears that Hill County commissioners will be able to avoid a lengthy and complicated redistricting process as the court begins the once-a-decade effort.

Commissioners heard from redistricting consultant Mike Morrison during a regular meeting held Tuesday, October 12. With the 2020 Census placing Hill County’s population at 35,874, Morrison told commissioners that the ideal precinct would consist of 8,968 people.

The lines of the four precincts in the county determine which areas are served by commissioners, constables and justices of the peace.

The emphasis of the redistricting process is to balance the number of people living in each of the precincts with a maximum deviation of 10 percent between the precincts with the most and fewest residents.

When the existing precinct lines were applied to the new census totals, the deviation stood at 12.63 percent, meaning only minor adjustments are needed to get that figure under 10 percent.

By comparison, the last time the county redistricted after the 2010 Census, that deviation was 26.80 percent.

“I remember going through this a little over 10 years ago, and it was a lot more difficult,” said Hill County Judge Justin Lewis. “It’s a bit of a breath of fresh air.”

Morrison said that because so little adjustment is needed, the court could achieve the proper balance by moving about six blocks in Hillsboro to even out precincts 2 and 3. No adjustments would be needed to precincts 1 or 4.

Under that scenario, the county’s redistricting process would move fairly quickly, with adoption of the plan to follow a public hearing on the change.

Responding to a question about how much the census numbers may be off in the area, Morrison said that he did not have an estimate, but it is generally understood that there is an undercount statewide. “We use those numbers because it is the only game in town,” he said.

Lewis recalled that the county’s population estimate in 2018 was higher than the current census number, and the county continues to grow.

Morrison said that knowing there is an undercount does not help with the redistricting process. While entities are not required to use the census numbers for redistricting, they would have to be able to prove that their numbers are better in court.

Commissioners expressed interest in the plan to make minimal changes by adjusting the few blocks in Hillsboro. They are expected to discuss the plan in more detail and hold a public hearing during their next regular meeting Tuesday, October 26, at 8:30 a.m. in the Hill County Courtroom of the courthouse.

Lewis said that the Hill County Elections Commission has also had discussions about consolidating some of the county’s 22 voting precincts and asked Morrison what that process would entail. The judge explained that some precincts only see a few voters while another can have thousands. He said that it is also becoming difficult to find locations for polling places in some rural areas.

Morrison suggested that the commission meet with election officials and judges to determine where changes may be needed and present that proposal while redistricting is underway.

In other updates, Commissioner Larry Crumpton reported that his crew has wrapped up some chip sealing projects and completed 20.5 miles of chip-sealed roads over the fiscal year that just ended.

The commissioner said that many residents have been appreciative of the work, but he said there have been incidents with young people spinning the tires of four-wheelers and other vehicles to damage newly repaired roads.

“It’s heartbreaking that my guys get out there and work hard to fix these roads for people and there are a lot of people who don’t respect it,” Crumpton said.

Commissioner Scotty Hawkins reported that his new precinct barn is mostly completed, but material shipping delays have held up the installation of light fixtures.

The court also voted to reject offers and go back out for bids on holding pens for estray livestock. Lewis said that the previously released advertisement for bids contained the wrong due date and it would be in the best interest of taxpayers to correct the issue and seek bids again.

Commissioners approved posting notices of several road closures and changes in Precinct 4 as work continues to clean up the county’s road maintenance maps. The areas involve unused and inaccessible roads and include portions of HCR 4267, HCR 3412, HCR 3417 and HCR 1431. The proposals will be posted and public hearings held to receive input from any landowners in the areas before decisions are made.

In other agenda items, commissioners approved the final plat for J&J Subdivision off of Farm Road 2719 near HCR 4113; tabled action on a sales agreement between Precinct 1 and Caterpillar due to Commissioner Andy Montgomery being absent to attend a required conference; approved an AirMedCare membership agreement that allows county employees residing outside of ESD 2 to purchase their own air ambulance memberships; and approved the trade of three old trailers in Precinct 4 for three new trailers.

The court convened in closed session to discuss two matters, including real property and pending or anticipated litigation. After reconvening in open session, commissioners voted to authorize the county attorney to initiate proceedings against real property if necessary.

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