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Willmar, Minn., proposes revised wards, precincts to equalize population

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council is taking public comments on a redistricting proposal that would shift about 3.9 percent of the city's population into different wards and precincts to meet equal representation requirements.

The shifting is proposed as a result of the 2010 Census. The U.S. Constitution requires a census be conducted every 10 years to determine the number of representatives to Congress for each state based on the population.

Census numbers are also used to provide equal representation for every state, county, and municipality.

Cities such as Willmar with wards must redistrict their wards after the census, and must make the wards equal in population in order to meet the equal representation requirement.

Ward boundaries are established by dividing equal population counts as near as practicable due to the requirements of following the boundaries of contiguous census blocks.

Willmar divides its representation into four wards, electing two council members from each ward in alternating elections.

In determining the boundaries, officials are to follow four criteria:

* Shift as few voters as possible, especially senior citizens.

* Avoid shifting council members to another ward, causing an election runoff.

* Avoid removing a polling location out of a standing precinct, necessitating finding a new polling location.

* Minimize the shifting of citizens from a nearby polling location to a new polling location some distance away.

The 2010 Census found that Willmar's population grew 6.87 percent from 18,351 in 2000 to 19,612 in 2010.

Due to significant growth in Ward 1, which covers everything north of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway tracks, the population distribution in the four wards is skewed.

According to the census, the population of Ward 1 is 5,220, compared with 4,863 in Ward 2; 4,542 in Ward 3; and 4,987 in Ward 4.

City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday proposed the 2010 map. He said the mathematical goal for each ward is 4,903 people, but trying to reach the goal was more difficult.

Straight lines cannot always be used to determine ward boundaries. Some blocks are irregularly shaped compared with square-shaped blocks in the core areas of the city.

"For me, it seemed liked the blocks were so big they weren't working out to the numbers. I would be 10, 12, 18 over and I knew I had to get closer than that,'' said Halliday.

Also, some areas of town lacked a "census block division,'' which is a paved street, Halliday explained.

"It has to be a dividing road to make its own block until we expand out and complete some roads and connect a few roads,'' he said.

"So I was looking at different options and for some reason the math was more of a struggle. But I got there,'' he said.

The proposed ward counts are close to the 4,903 goal: 4,901 in Ward 1; 4,899 in Ward 2; 4,906 in Ward 3; and 4,906 in Ward 4.

To make the numbers work, the following shifts are proposed:

* 204 residents of the Sperryville neighborhood will shift south from Ward 1, Precinct 1 to Ward 3, Precinct 2. The polling place will change from the Community Center to Highland Apartments.

* 298 residents on six blocks in Pleasantview Addition between Pleasantview Drive Southeast and Willmar Avenue Southeast will shift from Ward 4, Precinct 1 to Ward 4, Precinct 3. Polling place will change from First Baptist Church to Redeemer Lutheran Church.

* 81 residents on three blocks between Fourth Street Southwest and Seventh Street Southwest and between Grace Avenue and Robbins Avenue Southwest will shift from Ward 4, Precinct 3 to Ward 3, Precinct 3. Polling place will change from Redeemer Church to City Auditorium.

* 79 residents on two blocks between U.S. Highway 12 and Trott Avenue Southwest and between 10th Street and 11th Street Southwest will shift from Ward 2, Precinct 1 to Ward 3, Precinct 3. Polling place will change from St. Mary's Church to City Auditorium.

* 115 residents on six blocks between the railroad tracks and Gorton Avenue Northwest and between 10th Street and 14th Street Northwest will shift from Ward 1, Precinct 2 to Ward 2, Precinct 1. Polling place will change from Lakeview Apartments to St. Mary's Church.

"You have to get the population centered when you can and we can. It's zig and zag over, reattach them to a different ward,'' says Halliday.

"Some people will have to drive to new voting places. Not a lot of shifting, just in those five areas. The changes are minor changes. But the affected ones will look at it as major.''

The deadline for adopting the proposal is April 2.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150