LACONIA — The city’s ward lines will need to be redrawn to conform to population growth and shifts reflected in the 2020 Census. But because of delays — partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic — in getting the data released to local officials, the voters will be asked to give the City Council the authority to approve new ward boundaries.
The census puts the city’s population at 16,871, an increase of more than 900 people, City Manager Scott Myers said Wednesday.
However, that population figure, when broken down by ward, shows large variations in the individual ward populations. Ward 6 is the city’s most populous ward, with 3,064 people. While Ward 3 has the fewest number of people, with 2,429.
So redistricting is required to make the populations of each of the city’s six wards as close to equal as possible.
The census information was supposed to be released at the end of March but was pushed back to this month — a delay of five months — to give Census Bureau statisticians more time to crunch the numbers, which came in late because of delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic. That lag has eaten into the time to prepare new voting maps.
The City Council is scheduled to hold a special meeting on Monday at 7 p.m. to take up a proposal to hold a referendum during the November municipal election asking the voters to allow the council to set the new ward boundaries. If the council approves the initial step Monday, the public will have an opportunity to weigh in at a public hearing at the council meeting scheduled for Monday, Sept. 13. After the hearing, the council will vote to put on the November ballot a referendum authorizing the council, by a two-thirds majority, to alter the ward lines.
Normally, proposed ward line changes would be submitted to the voters. But while the city has the population total for each ward, it does not yet have the data showing how many people live in the city’s census blocks — geographic units typically bounded by streets and highways, rivers, lakes, etc. The city needs this information in order to redraw the ward lines with any degree of accuracy.
That data is expected to come in too late to schedule a public hearing and then draw up the referendum question in time for it to be printed for the November ballot, Myers explained.
He said the process to let the council authorize the new boundaries will eliminate the need to hold a special election sometime early next year. He said the decision cannot be put off until the 2022 general election because the state Legislature needs to have the results of the city’s ward redistricting to begin work on legislative redistricting when the Legislature reconvenes next year.