Pinellas County’s population may not have grown enough in the last 10 years to necessitate major shifts to the seven county commission districts. But the ongoing redistricting process could be a chance to adjust for some peculiarities in the boundaries.
For example, most of Clearwater falls within District 5, which also includes Belleair, Ridgecrest and Largo. But Clearwater Beach is sliced off into District 4 along with the northernmost part of the county.
On Wednesday, local government consultant Kurt Spitzer presented four alternative maps to the citizen-led redistricting board, with two options that move Clearwater Beach to the same district as Clearwater and two that reconfigure the three at-large districts.
Residents will have four opportunities this month to give feedback on the potential changes before the redistricting board submits its recommendations to the board of county commissioners in November. The board could also recommend that the county commission keep the districts unchanged.
Redistricting occurs once every 10 years to adjust for population shifts, but this year’s process is the first being conducted by citizens with the help of a consultant. The 11-member board was created by a voter referendum in 2016.
Since 2010, the county’s population grew by just 7 percent to 984,000 residents, and that increase appears to be evenly distributed, according to Spitzer.
In comparison, Hillsborough County had a 20 percent population growth over the last decade to 1.47 million and Pasco County had a 17 percent increase to 542,638 residents, according to estimates by the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
At the board’s next meeting on Oct. 27, Spitzer will present socio-demographic changes for the alternative maps.
In the first single-member district alternative, the boundary for District 5 that juts up into the Countryside area would be pulled south to Enterprise Road. That would move about 4,000 residents from District 5 to District 4 to exchange for the Clearwater Beach population moving into District 5.
In the second scenario, the Countryside boundary would come even further south to Sunset Point Road, exchanging for the Clearwater Beach residents and also creating more of a direct east-west line across Clearwater.
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Neither alternative proposes any changes to single-member districts 6 or 7, which cover the southern half of the county.
“I think it makes a lot of sense in terms of flattening some of the districts a little bit,” said board member Bruce Livingston, a former Dunedin city commissioner.
Redistricting board chairperson Brian Aungst also requested the group review a potential shift to divide Districts 4 and 5 by north-south boundaries instead of east-west. Aungst said the change was proposed by District 5 commissioner Karen Seel, who is stepping down at the end of her term in 2024.
Aungst said dividing the districts north-south would more evenly distribute unincorporated territory, which now disproportionately falls in District 4.
“I’d at least like to see it mocked up and see what that does,” Aungst said.
Spitzer also presented two alternatives for the three at-large districts, which currently divide the county into three uneven blocks, north to south.
The first scenario could create east-west boundaries that divide the county into north, central and southern at-large districts.
The second scenario would slice the county into more diagonal districts.
Livingston said because issues are so commonly referred to as “north, south and central,” he preferred the first at-large alternative that slices the county into more even horizontal districts.
Board member Karen Owen, a retired geospatial scientist, said the current at-large configuration may better represent the population because Districts 1 and 2 both include north and south county residents.
“I think when you have these at-large districts drawn the way they are it helps unify the county more because the interests in people in north county also are taken into account as well as south county with this shape,” Owen said. “I believe it improves diversity of opinion.”
The redistricting board’s recommendations will be advisory, and the commission must vote on the maps by December.
If you go:
What: Community forums for feedback on the Pinellas County redistricting process
Where: Online via Zoom. Residents can follow the link here.
When: Oct. 13 at 2 p.m.; Oct. 14 at 6 p.m.; Oct. 20 at 9 a.m.; Oct. 21 at 6 p.m.