Wright County population starting to shift 1 year after census

By John Holler

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Here we go again.

Less than a year after Wright County was forced to redistrict after county commissioner district sizes got so disproportionate that all five commissioner seats were forced by state statute to have their commissioner seats put up for re-election. Just months later, it would appear that Wright County’s uneven growth is continuing.

Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala presented the county board with the annual population estimates from the Minnesota state demographers office, which are used as official population numbers in between census periods and, while far from official, it was these demographer numbers that foretold of the inevitability of redistricting. The reason was simple — the explosive growth of the county. From 2000-2010, the county grew a whopping 39 percent. Only Scott County (a 45 percent increase in 10 years) grew faster. It would appear that, while the growth is slowing, it isn’t stopping.

“The demographer’s numbers show that Wright County continues to grow,” Hiivala said. “In the 2010 census, our population was 124,700. The state demographer numbers for 2011 have our population at 126,033 — an increase of 1,333 people. It isn’t as large as we’ve seen in the past, but it is a continued growth trend.”

Considering that the average growth per year from 2000-2010 was more than 3,400 a year, the increases were modest, but remain important. No city or township challenged their own population totals prior to the July 15 deadline, making these totals official numbers for 2011 and the new state fiscal year cycle. The demographer estimated that every city and township grew with the exception of the city of Dayton (which remained at 54 residents in Wright County), but the importance of the figures, Hiivala pointed out, is that when the state funding pie is divided up, those numbers act as the basis by which cities and townships are eligible for state dollars.

“In the years in between census years, the demographer numbers are the official numbers for cities and townships,” Hiivala said. “What makes that important is that when funding to cities and townships is done, it is based on population. These figures are taken very seriously and, while they say they’re estimates, when it comes to the State of Minnesota, they’re official.”

The only figure that is potentially up for debate (if one accepts the premise used in determining population by the demographer’s office based on household estimates and a unique figure attached per household — for example, a household in Cokato Township is assigned 3.49 people, while the city of Annandale’s average household is measured at 2.33 people) is how to divide the city of St. Michael by commissioner district. For the purposes of creating an estimate, the increase in population of the city was divided proportionally between the sizes of the two commissioner precincts in the 2010 census.

It would appear, early on anyway, that the disproportionate sizes of the districts would balance one another out over time. Under the new district rules, the largest district is District 1 (the cities of Annandale, Buffalo, South Haven and the townships of Albion, Buffalo, Chatham, Corinna and Southside) with 27,352 residents — and increase of 280 residents.

Next is District 5 (the cities of Cokato, Delano, Howard Lake, Montrose and Waverly and the townships of Cokato, Franklin, French Lake, Marysville, Middleville, Stockholm, Victor and Woodland) with a population of 26,044 — an increase of 320.

Then comes District 2 (the cities of Clearwater, Maple Lake and Monticello and the townships of Clearwater, Maple Lake, Monticello and Silver Creek) with a population of 25,651 — an increase of 228.

The smallest two districts were made the smallest for a reason — they are centered in the growth areas. However, in the case of District 4, the growth estimated by the state demographer fell short of expectations. District 4 (the cities of Albertville, Hanover Rockford and the smaller of two precincts in St. Michael and Rockford Township) was estimated to have grown by just 184 people — the smallest growth of any commissioner district, giving it a population estimate of 23,923.

District 5 experienced the largest growth, but, thanks to the redistricting plan accepted, is subject to the most growth. District 5 has just three local governmental units — the cities of Otsego, a small sliver of Dayton and the larger of two St. Michael precincts — and it’s population estimate is 23,063.

As things currently stand, just one year into the new redistricting plan, the difference in size between the largest district and smallest district is almost 4,300 people — well within the standards set, but setting the stage for future years to come. While the redistricting of the county creating vastly different commissioner districts, the initial results of the new-look plan is working.

“There were a lot of factors that went into redistricting,” Hiivala said. “One of them was to take into account that Wright County is going to continue to grow and that those areas that have grown the most would intentionally be made smaller than the more rural districts because the growth will be more pronounced there. Hopefully, it will be enough that we won’t have to do this all over again in 10 years.”