Map changes mean new districts

  • Article by: KEVIN GILES , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 2, 2012 - 10:05 PM

A booming population on the county's west side makes redistricting necessary.

All five members of the county board could find themselves campaigning next fall depending on how boundaries change in their districts.

Dramatic population changes in Washington County in the past decade mean that some of the commissioners will gain additional territory and some will lose portions of their districts. The redistricting initiative comes as a result of new congressional and legislative boundaries unveiled recently in Minnesota.

It's also possible that the county board could decide soon to add two districts, giving the county seven commissioners to represent a population approaching a quarter-million residents. Most other metro counties have seven commissioners, but Washington County's board has been reluctant to add expenses to the county budget.

As the commissioners decide new boundaries by April 20, with a public hearing scheduled for March 13, commissioners also have to weigh the growing population on the west end of Washington County. From Forest Lake in the north to Cottage Grove in the south, commuters have clustered in cities close to major freeways. Hugo, south of Forest Lake, has had the metro area's fastest rate of growth. Oakdale and Woodbury also have experienced substantial growth in the past 10 years.

"What is in the best interest of the public?" said Commissioner Lisa Weik, who represents most of Woodbury, the county's largest city. "This is local government. We're supposed to be as available as possible."

New districts each would have to contain about 45,000 county residents, said Commissioner Gary Kriesel, who represents Stillwater and surrounding cities and townships along the St. Croix River. That could mean that his district expands to include some portions of the northern district that Commissioner Dennis Hegberg represents.

"The residents will have an opportunity to vote for someone representing them," Kriesel said. "Regardless if I pick up a new territory, all of us are going to be out there door-knocking."

George Kuprian, the assistant county attorney who advises the board on legal matters, said a "10 percent rule" in the law calls for an election in any district where a commissioner gains or loses 10 percent of the total number of constituents. But shifts in demographics can complicate the meaning of that measurement, he said.

"My guess is everybody will be up for election," he said.

Commissioners also have to decide a schedule for staggered elections -- who among them will run for two-year terms and who will run four years from now.

None of the county districts can be redrawn until cities establish new voting precincts to replace some that the new congressional and legislative boundaries now cut in half. Boundaries for the county's soil and water conservation districts also will change.

Commissioners took no action at last week's meeting, which was a work session with County Administrator Molly O'Rourke and her deputy, Kevin Corbid, to exchange ideas on how the county should proceed.

But given population changes, Hegberg said, commissioners' districts should look much different by May.

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 Twitter: @stribgiles

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