Census data questions temporarily halt new ward maps for Kent
Complications created by changes in the way the City of Kent interprets census data have temporarily halted the redefinition of city wards.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to count the 10-year census, City Manager Dave Ruller said Wednesday. Part of the city’s responsibilities after the count is to balance the neighborhoods so that their sizes are within 10% of each other.
The first impression Bridget Susel, director of community development, Ruller said, was that every neighborhood in the city should be redesigned because of the results. However, after speaking with people at the county and state level, things may not be as disruptive as expected.
Although no action has been taken, Susel used the time on Wednesday to brief the city council on what the current situation looks like.
Typically, now is when the city would introduce new neighborhood maps. However, with the 2020 census, several variables worked against Kent. The pandemic has had a huge impact on the visiting student population, Susel said. Many off-campus accommodations were emptied during the university’s closure.
The overall population reduction, she continued, is 28,215 – only 689 less than the 2010 tally.
In 2010, only wards 3, 4 and 5 changed following the census results. The changes weren’t significant, Susel said, just some 100 people. This time, however, the mechanics used to create those changes have been changed. As a result, for example, Ward 2 would have seen a drop of 1,377 people. It didn’t make sense, she said.
The city then checked with county officials to make sure it was using the correct data. Then he took the 2020 census data and determined how it compared to the 2010 data. Susel said she was pleased to report that the population decline in Ward 2 had dropped to 221 fewer . However, the differences in other areas of the city still need to be corrected.
Some of these changes can be explained by new housing, but not all of them, Susel said.
The Census offers a process called “Census Count Issue Resolution”. It will start in January. Susel said she wants the US Census Bureau to see what city officials are looking at and make sure those changing numbers are verified.
“We would prefer that we go through this process as a community and have it done,” Susel said. “So once they verify our information, at that time we will pull the wards.”
The CQR is a new initiative that is expected to start accepting cases in early January 2022. Susel was unsure how long the process would take, but expected to return to the council with an update in February or March, however.
The neighborhoods would be within 10% of each other. Based on the city’s overall population of 28,215, a neighborhood can have an autonomy factor of 235 more or 235 less.
According to the state, population is the only factor that influences ward boundaries. Other demographics, such as political affiliation, play no role. They must also be contiguous.
Contact reporter Kaitlyn McGarvey with Kent News by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @kaitlynmcg_rc.