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Saratoga County board votes against expanding its ranks

Saratoga County board votes against expanding its ranks

Saratoga County supervisors voted Tuesday to keep the Board of Supervisors at the 23 members it has

Saratoga County supervisors voted Tuesday to keep the Board of Supervisors at the 23 members it has now, despite county population growth.

The board voted 17-2 to raise the maximum number of residents one supervisor can represent — their population-weighted vote — from the current 20,000 to 25,000 people.

If the change weren’t made, the town of Halfmoon would have been required to have a second supervisor because its population rose 16.5 percent in the last decade, to a 2010 total of 21,535, according to U.S. Census figures.

The number of county board members was set at 23 in 1968, when the county’s official population was about 90,000 and the maximum population-weighted vote of one supervisor was 12,500. Since then, the Board of Supervisors has repeatedly raised the population threshold as the county has grown. The threshold has been at 20,000 since 1991.

At a public hearing last week, the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County had urged supervisors not to make the change in weighted voting, saying it violates the federal “one man, one vote” requirement. The league argued that individual voters in large towns like Halfmoon have less say in government than those in small towns, where only a few hundred people elect the town supervisor.

But its backers said the current county government structure works well and adding a second Halfmoon supervisor would cost the county more money. Supervisors earn $18,505 each for their county duties.

“In this particular case, more is not necessarily better, more is just more money,” Supervisor Anita M. Daly, R-Clifton Park, said prior to the board vote in Ballston Spa.

Clifton Park and the city of Saratoga Springs are the only communities represented by two supervisors, based on their populations. Clifton Park had a 2010 population of 36,705, while Saratoga Springs had 25,586 residents. Each supervisor casts half that total as their weighted vote.

The only votes against the change were by Saratoga Springs Democrat Joanne Yepsen and Providence Republican John Collyer, who represents one of the county’s smallest towns.

Yepsen, as one of two Saratoga Springs supervisors, said a community can be well-represented by two people.

Collyer, the only Republican to break with the board’s GOP majority, made a similar argument.

“I think the present system with 20,000 works fine,” Collyer said. “I think [two supervisors] works adequately for Saratoga Springs and Clifton Park; I see no reason to change.”

Under the new weighted voting totals, Halfmoon Supervisor Mindy Wormuth will continue to have the most weighted votes of any supervisor. Her vote will increase from the current 18,474 based on the 2000 census to the new 21,535 figure.

“I don’t look at it as the most powerful supervisor,” Wormuth said after the vote. “I look at it as being one of many. We make decisions together.”

With nearly 220,000 residents, Saratoga is the largest county in the state governed by a board of supervisors rather than a county legislature. A board of supervisors is made up of town supervisors working together at the county level.

One criticism of Saratoga County’s system has been that weighted votes are used only at formal board meetings, not in the committee meetings, where most decisions originate.

Supporters of modifying the weighted voting system countered that criticism.

“I believe that on the committee level, no decisions are made,” said John E. Lawler, R-Waterford. “Every law, every resolution, every expenditure has to be approved by this body.”

The new weighted votes won’t take effect for at least 45 days. County Attorney Stephen Dorsey said there’s a mandatory waiting period, in case some residents want to circulate a petition to get the change put up to public referendum.

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