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Big changes in Buckeye a challenge for leaders

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BUCKEYE — When your city’s population essentially doubles over a 10-year span, big changes are going to happen to city council district boundaries.

That’s what the Buckeye City Council discovered Tuesday when consultant Doug Johnson presented three maps to the council as part of a workshop.

While the council didn’t take any formal action on the maps Tuesday, Johnson did go over a number of the challenges and obstacles in redrawing the city’s boundaries.

Council also gave Johnson plenty of feedback on likes, dislikes and issues to attempt to rectify or improve in the weeks ahead.

Maricopa County leaders are allowing municipalities a deadline of Jan. 7, 2022, to redraw council boundaries using recently acquired 2020 U.S. Census data.

One aspect Johnson said he liked was that districts 4 and 6 ended up being entirely north of I-10. The Tartesso development is entirely contained within a district.

One aspect Council member Craig Heustis complained about was a proposed map that would split the Sundance development into two districts along Yuma Road.

Johnson said he would do his best to get all of Sundance into one district, or as much of it as possible.

City Clerk Lucinda Aja pointed out that it is “incredibly difficult” to move a boundary without throwing off the balance of at least one district.

She and Heustis both said they spent several hours Monday trying to make numbers work — keeping the total number of residents close to the same in all six districts without splitting communities or developments.

Vice Mayor Tony Youngker compared the process to “squeezing a balloon” — creating new challenges every time a boundary is moved in any direction that affects residences.

By consensus, the council told Johnson to work with “Map B,” as presented in the packet. He will modify it and bring it to the Tuesday, Dec. 7, regular council meeting.

Procedures call for the council to adopt a resolution, establishing criteria for use in redistricting, at a regular meeting.

The city is spending more than $105,000 with Johnson’s firm, the National Demographics Corp., for redistricting knowledge, analysis, mapping and presentation.

The new boundary lines will be in place for the 2022 election cycle. That’s when Buckeye districts 4, 5, and 6 are up for election.

The public was able to provide input by submitting proposed maps.

The Department of Justice reviews council-approved municipal district maps, which must follow the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and all its subsequent amendments.

NDC first drew maps for Buckeye in 2007. Johnson’s firm was contracted for a redraw in 2012, after 2010 U.S. Census data was compiled and released.

A staff report says new residential construction in Buckeye has thrown off the balance of the six council districts. In some cases, the variation is as much as 80%. State law calls for a 5% variance.

Johnson acknowledged the advantages of requiring the use of the Census Bureau’s snapshot date of April 1, 2020, as a way of determining populations and demographics. In the case of Buckeye, the Census Bureau shows a 2020 city population of about 91,500, but city officials estimate that new homes completed and inhabited since April 2020 have pushed the city’s population beyond 100,000.

Johnson said while the COVID-19-accelerated pace is nothing like the 2012 redistricting process, the kinds of technology tools available to the public and to urban planners are much more advanced in 2021.

Also, 2020 Census data has seemed much more accurate than in past Censuses, thus far, Johnson said.

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