Freeport water tower

A water tower in Freeport.

FREEPORT — The City Council tweaked suggestions for the new district maps as they move towards the redistricting they began earlier this year. That was when they hired a firm to check the populations of the city against 2020 census data and found they were out of compliance with the law.

Sydney Falk Jr., of the firm Bickerstaff, Heath, Delgado and Acosta, returned to Freeport for the latest redrawing session Monday, after a special meeting in October that explained the process and answered many of the council’s questions.

He reiterated to the city that they needed to use blocks for zoning that were designated by the census without splitting them. The initial proposed changes to the city’s census blocks accounted for some necessary adjustments to a small area in the north boundary between Wards C and D.

In the initial proposal, Falk said the census blocks that were divvied up were roughly equal in population between the wards.

“What happened there is, the census not only takes the head count, but it defines something we call ‘census geography.’ In particular it defines census blocks for the entire country. There are hundreds of thousands of them,” Falk said. “In a city, a typical block looks like a city block. When you get out into sparsely populated areas, they may be bigger and more irregular.”

This was the case for the redrawn census blocks which cut across the pre-existing ward boundaries near the city limits.

“When you have a ward line that splits that census block, we need to assign the whole entirety of that census block to one ward or the other,” Falk said.

Councilman Jerry Cain asked Falk to verify the proposed changes to C and D were made only due to the changes in the census blocks rather than the population and received an affirmative answer, though Falk said that they still paid attention to any population shifts that came through to be sure that everything still adhered to the city’s needs.

The biggest proposed move from the initial plans were between Wards A and B, which constituted the least and most populous wards. The firm proposed moving four blocks of Ward B into Ward A.

The final goal of the redistricting is to bring all of the wards within a total 10 percent population deviation between the most and least populated wards. Further balancing the population between wards once that aim is achieved would carry no added legal benefit, Falk said.

A member of a committee created to provide resident input on the map suggested using Velasco Boulevard as a dividing line between A and B.

The council decided to try out the proposal, and liked the results. A small adjustment near Fifth Street and changes to C and D allowed the city to be within the 10 percent deviation.

“It would certainly be cleaner, using Velasco,” Mayor Brooks Bass said.

Councilman Jeff Peña asked about further moving some of the more densely populated areas between C and D.

These changes involved moving the northwestern corner into Ward C. Some of the city near the river, including between Gulf Boulevard and Avenue B, would be transferred to Ward D, namely the area between Perry Street and McNeil Street.

The populations of the wards would shift with C becoming the highest populated and B the least. The changes came out to a 7.11 percent deviation.

“I like the fact that this particular one does have a clear delineation for citizens of Ward B and Ward A along Velasco,” Peña said. “Overall I think it is pretty symmetrical.”

The map, designated Plan D by the council, will be presented at council’s Dec. 5 meeting for a vote. All three councilmen and the mayor indicated they felt a consensus coming out of the public hearing.

“I hesitate to use the word pretty on this map, but it is,” Falk said.

The city is required to pass the redistricting plan by the end of the calendar year. A map of the proposed wards will be posted to the city’s website next week.

Kent Holle is a reporter for The Facts. Contact him at 979-237-0154.

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