Council debates new district boundaries

June 12, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

The Baltimore County Council met yesterday to draw up a plan that could define the county's political landscape for the next 10 years -- new boundaries for council districts.

But when it came to decide on specific borders, about the only thing the seven council members could agree on was that they couldn't agree.

The county's 1990 census population of 692,134 means each district ideally should have 98,876 residents, according to a memo provided to council members by the county planning office.

Growth over the past 10 years in the 1st, 3rd and 5th districts has spawned population gains that put those districts considerably over the 98,876 target.

Population declines in the 2nd, 4th and 7th districts mean those areas will have to pick up communities. The 6th District, with 99,682, has about the right number.

Councilman C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-3rd, whose district has the largest area and most population, presented a plan yesterday that would give part of his district to each of the three districts that border it.

His plan calls for transferring the northern portions of his district that lie east of York Road into the 6th District, southern portions into the2nd and southwestern portions into the 1st.

"I had to give up the most, so I gave up some to everybody that surrounds me," he said. "My plan shrinks everything, and the numbers all work."

But his plan drew fire from Councilman Melvin G. Mintz, D-2nd, who came up with his own plan. Mr. Mintz's plan would expand his district by adding some of the Green Spring Valley communities that are now a part of Councilman Ruppersberger's district.

The plan would keep the 2nd District's black population at just under 40 percent, ensuring that minorities retain their voting strength, he said.

He added that migration patterns justify adding the Green Spring communities.

"A lot of the people who have historically been a part of my district; people from the Pikesville area, and nearby, have moved out to that area," Mr. Mintz said. "I know those people, I know their history, and I know their problems."

But Mr. Ruppersberger argued that it made more sense to draw boundaries based on geography and population figures, rather than on "the individual who happens to be in office at the time."

"He wants to bring his district over into Caves Valley, and that just doesn't make any sense," Mr. Ruppersberger said.

On the east side of the county, a fight is brewing over the political fate of Essex, a traditionally Democratic stronghold.

Councilman Vincent Gardina, D-5th, whose district includes Essex, sharply criticized a plan backed by Councilman Donald Mason, D-7th, to transfer communities that lie southwest of Back River Neck Road into Mr. Mason's district. That would essentially divide Essex, he said.

"You can't take a community that's been designated as one community for years and years and then break it up into two council districts," he said. "You just don't want to break up Essex."

Mr. Mason said the portion of Essex he wants to add to his district is "socioeconomically contiguous" to the rest of his Dundalk-based district.

"It's not tearing any community apart, there is no disparity between Essex and Dundalk. It is the blue-collar area of the county," he said.

Council Chairman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th, said he hopes council members will be able to come up with a compromise proposal in informal discussions in the next few weeks so that he can introduce it at the council's July 1 meeting.

Council members said the plan is tentatively slated to be the focus of a July 30 public hearing. It may then be adopted at their Aug. 5 session.

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