Although a parade of speakers praised the Ulster County Commission on Reapportionment for undertaking a tough job at a May 16 public hearing at the Modena fire station, no one seemed happy with the work the group had done.
Elected officials and residents took turns criticizing the commission for changing the configuration for Ulster County legislative districts in the towns of Gardiner, Plattekill, New Paltz and Shawangunk.
The Ulster County Commission on Reapportionment is charged with using 2020 U.S. Census data to redraw the county’s 23 legislative district lines to reflect population shifts within the county.
Following the Modena public hearing and another three nights later in Saugerties, the commission has to adopt a final plan no later than July 20.
The most complaints came from Gardiner residents who didn’t want to be included in the same district with neighboring New Paltz.
Currently, the Town of Gardiner is represented by Legislature Chairman Tracey Bartels, a Democrat who also represents a part of the Town of Shawangunk. Bartels was one of over 40 people who attended the public hearing, but she chose not to speak.
Town of Gardiner Supervisor Marybeth Majestic weighed in first on the proposed change to Gardiner. She pointed out that none of the seven commission members were residents of Gardiner, Plattekill or New Paltz.
“This is my seventh year as Town Supervisor,” she said. “I’ve been very fortunate to be able to call one person in the county when I need help – and that’s Tracey (Bartels). We’re on the same page and it’s very comforting to have that.”
Majestic said under the new redistricting plan about one-third of Gardiner would be split off into the neighboring New Paltz legislative district. She said that would be a mistake.
“Gardiner is very different than New Paltz,” she said. “We don’t have a college. We don’t even have a municipal water system. We work very well the way we are now and I think we’d like to stay that way.”
Ralph Erenzo, co-founder of Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery in Gardiner, saw no reason to put part of Gardiner in the New Paltz legislative district.
“Gardiner, for as long as I’ve been here, has acted as a single unit,” he said. “My concern is that the county has been looking at Gardiner for what it is – a destination in terms of the tourism industry. For years, we’ve been trying to find ways to capitalize on that. Suddenly if we lop off a third of the town’s voting power, there might be some confusion at the county level and it might be more difficult for us to get the support we have gotten.”
Republican county legislator Kevin Roberts, who represents the vast majority of District 12 (Town of Plattekill), objected to the proposed shift that would put about half of Modena in District 13 (Town of Shawangunk), currently being represented by Republican Ken Ronk.
“Also, Marlborough being part of the new District 12 doesn’t make any sense at all,” Roberts said of a piece being added along Huckleberry Turnpike in the southern part of the district. “There’s no continuing neighborhood. It just stops and starts up a half-mile later. It would make more sense to add some houses or a district up in the northern end.”
Town of Shawangunk Supervisor John Valk said he thought his town continued to get the short end of the stick by again being divided into three legislative districts.
“The only difference between now and 10 years ago is that one of our districts was solely in the town,” Valk said. “We always knew we’d have one resident that lived in the Town of Shawangunk representing the Town of Shawangunk. But the potential for this (reapportionment) map is that we could possibly have three representatives and none of them would live in the Town of Shawangunk. I think it’s time another town took their turn being divided into three pieces.
Sis Morse, a member of the Town of Plattekill Zoning Board of Appeals and a longtime resident of Plattekill, drew a laugh from the crowd that seemed to sum up the feelings of many at the hearing.
“Thank you for the job you’ve done,” she stated. “But I’m not happy with it.”
After the meeting, commission chairman Rejis Obijiski said the group would take all of the public comments into consideration before releasing a final map of the redrawn districts. But he said the tight deadline for making adjustments would probably not allow for major changes.
“Probably more tweaks than major changes,” he said. “Any single change to the map will affect the entire map. And so if we say we’ll just tweak the southern part of the county, you’re going to be pushing around numbers in the northern part of the county. It just happens.”