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Population boom in Pasco County will reshape political districts

A boom of residents in central Pasco over the past 10 years is about to shake up the county's political boundaries.

As with state and congressional districts, those for Pasco's County Commission and School Board seats must be redrawn following the census to account for shifts in population. The new numbers show that an ideal Pasco district would have 92,939 people, and state law says districts must be as "equal in population as practical."

County Administrator John Gallagher has roughed out four proposals — all of which dramatically shrink the central Pasco territory represented by County Commissioner Pat Mulieri and School Board member Joanne Hurley. In each scenario, they would cede large swaths of territory to each of the other four districts.

"(Mulieri) picked up all that new growth of the last 10 years," Gallagher said, referring to booming Wesley Chapel and Land O'Lakes.

In Pasco, County Commission districts match those of the School Board. The new districts won't have an immediate effect on most voters — unless they are considering running for public office. All commissioners and School Board members are elected countywide, though they must live in the districts they represent.

But as a practical matter, residents often take complaints or problems to their local commissioner or School Board member, and officials often highlight the concerns of their local districts.

Two of the maps include another key change, consolidating all of New Port Richey into District 4, which is represented by Commissioner Henry Wilson and School Board member Alison Crumbley. Current districts have the southern half of the city included in the Hudson-based district of Commissioner Jack Mariano and School Board member Steve Luikart.

All of maps include districts that deviate from compact shapes so that incumbent commissioners and School Board members are not excluded from their districts. Notable cases include those of Mulieri and Luikart.

Another interesting quirk is District 3, represented by longtime Commissioner Ann Hildebrand and School Board member Cynthia Armstrong. In each scenario, the district would stretch 25 miles from Hildebrand's Gulf Harbors home and stop just short of the Shops at Wiregrass. She would shed portions of south New Port Richey, Longleaf and future development on Starkey Ranch.

"I was shocked at my district," Hildebrand said. She told one friend, "you won't believe — where you and I go shopping, I'm still in my district."

Though that district could provide a bridge linking up-and-coming developments in south Pasco, Gallagher said he was simply trying to even out the population while making the districts compact and as similar to those for past seats as possible.

Gallagher presented four options, though he said commissioners or School Board members can request other scenarios. The two boards will hold a joint meeting to discuss the plans Aug. 16.

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

Population boom in Pasco County will reshape political districts 08/02/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 2, 2011 8:41pm]
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