City redraws ward boundaries to reflect population changes

Wards 4 and 5 meet on Paxson and 34th Street on the south side of Missoula. Population changes across the city will require a boundary adjustment in several city wards. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Sherry Devlin/Missoula Current

You may live in a new city ward today, following a decision by the Missoula City Council changing the boundaries of wards 1, 2, 4 and 6 to reflect population shifts.

In an 11-1 vote, with Councilman Jon Wilkins voting no, council members began by expanding Ward 4 toward the Bitterroot rail line and shrinking Ward 6 in the Southgate Mall area.

Ward 6 was slightly over the average population per ward, while Ward 4 was 682 people below the average. The adjustment puts both within the allowable 3 percent variation.

Missoula Development Services staff members look at city wards every two years, using building permit data to estimate the population when new U.S. Census data is not available. Ward boundaries are then adjusted so every City Council member represents a similar number of people.

Missoula’s estimated population on Jan. 1, 2017 was 73,117. That put an average of 12, 187 residents in each of the city’s six wards.

Also approved at Monday night’s council meeting was a change that expanded Ward 1 to Cooper Street and contracted Ward 2 in the Westside neighborhood. Because of new construction and infill, Ward 2 was 492 residents over the average.

A second option not selected by council members expanded Ward 6 across the Clark Fork River. The city tries to respect major physical divides like the river when drawing ward lines.

Garin Wally, in the planning division of Development Services, said the city made no changes to ward boundaries in 2013, then adjusted wards 1 and 3 in 2015. The next major adjustment will occur in 2021, following the 2020 Census.

Ward 4 Councilman John DiBari, who was initially concerned about the changes, said the staff proposal does appear to be the “easiest change for the time being.”

“After the next census, a more robust redistricting will have to take place,” he said.

The new wards are now in place for the 2017 City Council elections. New council members will take their seats in January 2018.

For a street-by-street map showing the boundaries of all wards, go to the city of Missoula’s website, http://www.ci.missoula.mt.us.