The Little Falls City Council continued its ongoing discussion about redistricting city wards, Monday.
In October, City Administrator Jon Radermacher informed the Council that, due to a wide discrepancy in the population between the three wards, they would need to be realigned. The jist of those conversations was that Ward 3 — which previously consisted of only the west side of Little Falls — needed more people.
Monday, Radermacher presented a possible new alignment in which the area south of Highway 27 and west of First Street Southeast all the way to the southern edge of town would be absorbed into Ward 3. Ward 1 would consist of southeast Little Falls, east of First Street Southeast and the homes east of Highway 10 and north of Highway 27. Ward 2 would be everything north of Fourth Avenue Northeast from the river to Highway 10 to the northern edge of town.
Radermacher said, with this alignment, Ward 1 would have a population of 3,060, Ward 2 would be 3,016 and Ward 3 would be 3,064.
“That would definitely be as close to even as possible, balance of population,” he said. “To me, it seems pretty on par with the contiguous factor.”
“That looks like a good way to do it,” said Board President Brad Hircock. “It keeps more of a straight line across the top of Ward 1 between 1 and 2 just to make it easier to understand.”
One of the challenges in drawing out the new boundaries, he said, was with the homes east of Highway 10 and north of Highway 27. That neighborhood doesn’t line up with any of the avenues west of Highway 10 to create a definite, geographic marker for the border.
He said, to him, it made the most sense to have that area be part of Ward 1 to keep everything in Ward 2 west of the highway and east of the river.
“You can’t really just blindly decide the line,” Radermacher said. “You have to pick some sort of geographic marker to determine the boundaries.”
In that scenario, Highway 10 would serve that purpose.
The next step in the process, he said, is to collect public input. He told the Council that, if it was comfortable with that alignment, he would post it on the city’s website and Facebook page. There, residents can view the potential new boundary lines and give comments and input in writing. He anticipated those would be available through the end of January.
Radermacher also told the Council he would like to establish a date or two to hold informational meetings. These could be done both in-person at City Hall or online via Zoom. Those would allow residents to discuss the boundaries and ask questions of city officials.
“It’s really more of, come here, we can display and be able to answer questions,” Radermacher said. “I liked what the state did when they did the highway project. It was more of an open house kind of feel.”
No dates were nailed down at Monday’s meeting, but it is likely those informational sessions will be held in late January 2022.
Once all of that public input has been gathered and taken into account, the Council could vote on the new boundaries at its first meeting in February 2022. The city has a March 29, 2022, deadline to submit its final, approved plan to the Secretary of State’s Office.
Radermacher said the real work begins after everything is approved. He said it is imperative city officials make it clear to residents where there polling places will be for the 2022 election. The polling places will remain the same as they’ve been in the past, with Ward 1 voting at the Initiative Foundation, Ward 2 voting at City Hall and Ward 3 at Bethel Lutheran Church. However, where some residents need to go will change.
“There’s going to be a lot of confusion, I know, for people on that west side of First Street Southeast,” he said.
For example, he said some residents might be right across the street from the Initiative Foundation, but they won’t be able to vote there because it isn’t their ward. Instead, they will have to go to the Bethel Lutheran Church on the west side of town.
Council Member James Storlie said, with the computerized registration available at the polling places, it should be relatively easy for polling judges to point residents in the right direction if they show up to the wrong location.
Radermacher said it was important for officials to ensure people know where they’re supposed to go before they head out to cast their ballots.
“I don’t want people to be frustrated and not show up to vote just because they didn’t get the message and we didn’t do our best job in trying to communicate that their polling place changed,” he said.