by Mike Knaak
The last piece in the redistricting puzzle is now in place as the Stearns County board approved a new commissioner district map and decided terms for the five districts.
All political district lines are redrawn every 10 years following the census, balancing representation to reflect population changes. A state commission set congressional and legislative maps in February.
After narrowing the options to four maps, commissioners unanimously approved a map for two urban districts, two rural districts and what commissioners called a “swing” or suburban district, the Second District, which includes St. Joseph and Sartell.
The newly redrawn Second District now adds Brockway Township and the city of St. Stephen while Waite Park moves to the Fourth District, which also includes the south side of St. Cloud.
As the board debated the maps at its April 12 meeting, current Second District Commissioner Joe Perske pointed out many people who live in Brockway Township work in the St. Cloud area and children attend the Sartell-St. Stephen school district. Brockway had been part of the old Third District that ran from Holdingford in the north to Richmond and Eden Valley in the south.
The Second District includes the fastest-growing portion of Stearns County. The county added about 9,000 residents in the last 10 years to bring county population to just less than 160,000 people.
Law requires political districts vary by less than 10 percent. The new Stearns districts vary within 5 percent.
Commissioners will be elected in all five districts in the 2022 election, but to maintain staggered terms in future elections, commissioners needed to pick two districts with only two-year terms instead of four-year terms. Board chair Steve Notch asked if any of his colleagues would volunteer for the two-year terms. There were no takers and there was some discussion of postponing the term-length decision. Notch then proposed drawing terms out of a hat. As a result, the commissioners elected in the Second and the Fifth districts will serve two-year terms while the other three seats will be for four years.
Benton County made no changes to its commissioner districts because the population fell within the 10 percent threshold that would require redistricting. As a result, the east side of Sartell will still be part of the Third District along with the north side of Sauk Rapids. The Third District is currently represented by Steve Heinen, whose term expires in 2023.
Filing for the county commissioner races, as well as other federal, state and local races with potential primaries, opens May 17 and closes May 31. Filing for offices without primaries runs from Aug. 2 through Aug. 16. Minnesota’s primary election is Aug. 9 and the general election is Nov. 8.