Missoula council approves boundary adjustments to 4 of 6 election wards

Missoula City Council members Gwen Jones, right, and Heather Harp listen to a presentation before the the pandemic in council chambers. Four of the city’s six wards will be adjusted before the next election. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

Citing new population statistics and shifting growth patterns, the Missoula City Council on Monday night approved boundary adjustments to four of the city’s six election wards.

Several wards were no longer aligned with their recommended population, something that occurs as the city grows and population densities change.

As a result, some voters in wards 2, 3, 4 and 5 will receive ballots from a new ward this year. For those voters, they’ll no longer be represented by their current council member but rather, by their new ward representative.

The changes will be recorded before June and candidates filing for office must live in the ward they hope to represent.

“They’ll take place before the election,” said Missoula Mayor John Engen said. “The county will also inform voters.”

The city has adjusted its ward boundaries several times in recent years, including 2015, 2017 and again in 2019. The adjustments are based upon population estimates derived from new building permits.

Permits submitted during 2019 and 2020 suggest that wards 2 and 5 are now over the target population by 737 and 419 residents respectively. Wards 3 and Ward 4 are under the mark by 530 residents each.

Ward populations should range between 12,600 and 13,455 residents when divided by the city’s current population of around 78,400 people.

“When the Census results come in the next few months, two years from now there will be a much more holistic look at this, because a lot has changed in the last 10 years,” said council member Gwen Jones. “In the meantime, this is the best we can do to address it. The Census will be very specific data to do an overlook on all of this.”

With projected growth west of Reserve Street, the city’s population will continue to expand into new areas, requiring future ward redistricting. Ward 2 has added an estimated 980 residents in the last two years while Ward 5 has added around 420.

The city added 2,200 new residents last year and is expected to grow at around 2% annually.

“I’m really excited to see the Census numbers for Missoula,” said council member Stacy Anderson. “That will be enlightening to see at a local level, at a granular level, how our community is growing and changing.”