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Henry County seeks input on county reapportionment
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Henry County seeks input on county reapportionment

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CAMBRIDGE — Henry County is beginning the once-every-10-years process to review the makeup of county board districts.

Decisions to be made include the size of the county board and whether members will be elected at-large or representing districts.

Ten years ago, the process culminated in the reduction of the Henry County Board from 24 members to 20. The board went from having eight members in each of three districts to having 10 members in two districts. Districts went from being divided on chiefly north-south lines to one east-west division.

Jon Zahm, chairman of the 2010 reapportionment committee said the reapportionment process 10 years ago was done to create "as fair a map as possible and as simple a map as possible" and to keep towns intact.

Jan Weber, Henry County Republican committee chairman, said perhaps 30 years ago there were four districts in the county.

"It changed a little bit so we could keep communities together," she said.

She said back in the days when there was one county board member for each of the county's 24 townships, things were inequitable because, for example, Alba Township with fewer than 200 people would have as much representation as Geneseo Township with 5,000-6,000 registered voters.

Wednesday's panelists were Denise Bulat of Bi-State Regional Commission, county board chairman Kippy Breeden, vice chairman Shawn Kendall and county GIS specialist Bruce Lang.

Counties with fewer than 3 million population are supposed to reapportion by July 1, but because of the pandemic, the full census numbers, including census information for populations of cities, townships and census tracts won't be available earlier than mid-August and possibly late September, according to Bulat.

Bulat said Henry County did a great job of self-reporting in the census at 76.9%, which was 2% better than the 2010 census. She said looking at economic development, it struck her that Henry County didn't have that many business losses in the pandemic and even had some businesses opening.

"I'm hoping Henry County holds their own," she said. "I obviously don't have any numbers at this point."

Breeden appointed an ad hoc reapportionment committee last December. Besides her, others on the committee were Kendall, County Clerk Barb Link, State's Attorney Catherine Runty, County Administrator Erin Knackstedt, board members Marshall Jones (Republican) and Jan May (Democrat), Weber, Democratic Central Committee chairman Henry Murphy and Zahm.

"I wanted representation from both political parties so it's not just a gerrymandered district that's going to be all Democrat or all Republican. That would not be fair," Breeden said.

The board chairman said the current county board was "very diligent in being respectful of taxpayers' money" and if the county's census is down considerably, the question would be could the county reduce the size of the board and have "less government but better government."

Lang said the ad hoc committee had access to school district boundaries as well as other information. He noted the goal is to have the number in each district be equal.

Knackstedt said among counties of similar size to Henry County, Bureau County Board has 26 members from 26 districts; Livingston County has 24 members among three districts and Woodford County has 15 members in three districts.

The ad hoc committee will take the information from the May 5 meeting along with other input and make a recommendation to the executive committee. Ultimately the decision goes to the full county board for a final vote.

"It's all just conversation right now," Knackstedt said. "Nothing has been determined, and no decisions have been made."

The county board would vote on the new districts and number of members, if any changes were to be made, at its July 22 meeting. Failing that, the Henry County State's Attorney would get involved and a reapportionment plan would be presented by Oct. 1.

Any changes would go into effect after the November 2022 election.

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