POUGHKEEPSIE, NY – Voters in Dutchess County will be called upon in November to decide whether to reduce the size of the county legislature.
In a party line vote on Monday, lawmakers passed a resolution to hold a referendum on the ballot that calls for the current 25-member legislature to become a 21-member body. All 15 Republicans voted for the resolution; the 10 Democrats opposed it.
The fact that the resolution was on the agenda for the last meeting in which it could be voted on to put the referendum on the ballot this year has left some Democratic lawmakers to question Republican motives.
Lawmaker Kristopher Munn, D-Red Hook, said the resolution was “dropped at the last minute” by Legislative Speaker Gregg Pulver, R-Pine Plains.
“This was the last possible meeting that this could be on the November voting agenda, and they didn’t even give a full month’s notice. They did it 10 days before the meeting, ”Munn said.
Munn said that while he was not opposed to the downsizing of the Legislature, lawmakers should have had the opportunity to discuss the issue. He also suggested that the move was an effort by Republicans to gain greater control of the legislature. He quoted lawmaker Will Truitt, R-Hyde Park, as previously saying that a smaller legislature would ensure that “each legislator has a greater share in the mechanics of government.”
Truitt said many county residents don’t know what the County Legislature is doing and that a smaller Assembly would bring “more clarity to the situation.”
In 1997, voters approved a referendum to reduce the Dutchess County legislature from 35 to 25 members following the 2000 U.S. census.
Almost immediately after the downsizing, some started calling for the legislature to be further downsized, but the problem never peaked until Monday.
“Fewer lawmakers and a more efficient government are in the best interests of our residents,” Pulver said. “The voters recognized it overwhelmingly in 1997 by adopting the referendum with more than two-thirds of support. Again, residents will again be asked to consider the number of representatives they prefer. I think we will see broad support in November.
On Monday, in another 15-10 vote, lawmakers agreed to create a new independent redistribution commission.
In June, County Deputy Chief Prosecutor Chris Cullen informed the legislature that the original board had been dissolved because one of the Democrats appointed was also an elected member of the school board, which he said violated the ban on elected officials to sit on the commission.
Democrats argued on Monday that there was no need to dissolve the commission and that a new member could simply have been chosen from the list of candidates.
The seven-member commission is tasked with using data from the 2020 U.S. Census to redraw the county legislative constituencies to reflect population changes within the county. He must file the plan with the county electoral board within six months of receiving the census data, and the new lines must be in place for the November 2023 election of the county legislature.