Construction of new residential units in the southern part of the city of Laurel over the past decade has led to increased population in election Ward 2 and the need to shift some of that population to Ward 1.
Every decade, following the release of U.S. census data, the city goes through a process of redrawing its election ward boundaries to reflect changes in population. That process is currently underway.
This is the first time ward boundaries are being redrawn since Laurel election rules were changed so residents only vote for council members in their own wards, in addition to voting for the at-large council member and mayor.
Jack Brock, the city's deputy director of community planning, has come up with two proposals for how to restructure the city's election wards so that the population is balanced between the two.
"We had a little bit of adjusting to do to make them equal, or as close as possible, in population," Brock said.
According to 2010 census data, the population of Ward 1 is 10,654 and the population of Ward 2 is 14,461, creating an uneven 42 percent to 58 percent split.
"It was mostly the new construction south of Cherry Lane," Brock said of the reason the two wards have become out of balance since the boundaries were drawn 10 years ago.
Option A, Option B
Both of Brock's proposed options will create a nearly even split of the city's population between Ward 1 and Ward 2 when using the 2010 census data.
In addition to balancing population, Brock said he adhered to the following principles in coming up with the proposals: "You try the very best you can not to divide a neighborhood. You follow major streets."
Option A would move the area south of Route 198, east of Van Dusen Road, north of Marton Street and west of Harrison Drive from Ward 2 to Ward 1. Homes on both side of Marton Street would be included in Ward 1; only homes on the west side of Harrison Drive will be included in Ward 1.
Brock said Option A does slightly divide the Fairlawn neighborhood.
Option B would move the area south of Route 198 and west of Van Dusen Road from Ward 2 to Ward 1. It would also move the area south of eastbound Route 198, east of Eighth Street, north of Marshall Avenue (using the creek as the dividing line) and west of Route 1 from Ward 1 to Ward 2.
No neighborhoods are divided under Option B, Brock said. By moving the area north of Marshall Avenue to Ward 1, Brock eliminates the creek as the diving line between the two wards and makes eastbound Route 198 the boundary.
"I like to follow major roadways," Brock said, noting that all of the boundaries he uses in his proposals are roads, not other natural boundaries such as creeks or streams.
Though there is no requirement to consider the percentage of various racial or ethnic populations in each ward, Brock said he included those figures on the two map options "to show that they are essentially balanced racially in both instances."
In Option A, the racial breakdown for Ward 1 is 42 percent black, 38 percent white, 6 percent Asian and 14 percent other. For Ward 2, the breakdown is 57 percent black, 22 percent white, 12 percent Asian and 9 percent other.
In Option B, the racial breakdown for Ward 1 is 46 percent black, 35 percent white, 8 percent Asian and 11 percent other. For Ward 2, the breakdown is 50 percent black, 25 percent white, 11 percent Asian and 13 percent other.
Brock's proposals are now before the Census and Ward Boundary Review Committee, which was impaneled by Mayor Craig Moe to review the proposals and send a recommendation to the City Council. The City Council has final approval on what proposal will be selected to serve as the city's election ward boundaries for the next decade.
Three residents serve on the committee — Rick Wilson from Ward 1, Rhonda Whitley from Ward 2 and Kimberly Elliott as the at-large representative. The committee held its first meeting May 29, where it was presented with Brock's two proposals.
"Jack had some good options," Wilson said. "They were reasonable options."
However, the committee does not have to recommend either of Brock's proposals to the council. They can either amend one of his proposals or come up with an entirely new proposal.
Wilson said he's not at the point in the process where he is looking to make serious revisions or draw his own plan.
"I'm just in a fact-finding mode at this point," he said, later noting that the options he came up with "just kind of doodling were not quite as clean" as Brock's options.
Wilson also agrees to the principles Brock followed in drafting his proposals.
"Keep neighborhoods intact, try to bring the wards into balance — those all make sense to me," Wilson said.
The committee is scheduled to meet again on June 18, 20 and 25 — all at 7 p.m. at the Municipal Center. Though all meetings are open to the public, June 20 is specifically dedicated to taking testimony on the existing proposals or ideas for new ones.
"We would more than encourage and welcome public input into this process," Wilson said.