With the release of 2010 Census figures, the City of Statesboro is beginning the process of evaluating population growth and determining whether the city's five districts need to be reshaped.
In accordance with federal laws, each of the city's five districts must maintain relatively even populations - within a 10 percent deviation - to ensure fair and proper elections, according to Mandi Cody, director of Community Development for the city.
Census data revealed an approximate 25-percent growth for the city's population, meaning district populations may be skewed, depending on where growth occurred since the 2000 census survey, she said - the city modified district lines after the 2000 figures were released.
This week, Statesboro's Community Planning Department began initial processes to determine how districts have changed and what population growth would mean for the future of the city's district lines.
"The census data was released on March 24," said Cody. "Since that time, [the department] has worked with the data and began incorporating it in our systems and city maps."
"Inserting the data into our systems gives us a better idea of how the census numbers are reflected in our city limits and council districts," she said. "The next step is deciphering the numbers and determining where growth has occurred."
Using city records - building permits, utility services, etc - the city does expect redistricting to be a necessity, said Cody.
"I expect that we will have to redistrict," she said. "I don't yet know when we will have to."
"We know we have had growth; and know, according to our information, where most of the growth has taken place," said interim City Manager Frank Parker. "Most of the growth appears to be around Georgia Southern University."
"Whether the bulk of growth is found in Gary Lewis' district, Will Britt's district, John Riggs' district or Travis Chance's district is still unknown," he said.
The city will have a better grasp on the exact location and amount of growth, and what it means for the city, by the end of next week, Cody said.
Once the information is analyzed, the planning department will present its findings to council.
"Once the information from the 2010 data is entered into our system and becomes meaningful and useful, we can compare the data city-wide based on the 2000 Census figures," said Cody. "The next step will be taking our data and presenting it to the city council; so we can share with them the findings - growth, population shifts, and demographic changes - that have been revealed by the 2010 Census."
The department is expected to have the information prepared to study by next week, at which point personnel would determine how and when to present the information to council, she said.
"I anticipate we will present the information to council, and then provide members with deadlines that we, as a city, have to meet to redistrict before the November election," she said. "We will also present to them all of the steps they have to take to ensure the process happens in a legal and proper fashion. At that point, they will determine as a council whether to move forward or wait until the following general election to redistrict."
"Right now, we are still at a point where we don't have the numbers to run with," Parker said. "We are still in the walking stage."
According to the city manager, redistricting "could be very minor or very extensive depending on what the numbers bear out."
If redistricting is needed, the city may have a small window in which to complete the process. Once council agrees on a plan, the United States Justice Department would need to approve the proposal in time for this year's general election, said Cody.
"The timeline and processes we will have to meet in order to redistrict in a timely fashion for this November's election will be very tight and pressing," she said. "Qualifying for the November general election begins August 29. Our goal would be to have redistricting completed and approved by the federal government by that date."
Whether or not the city will be required to redistrict - if redistricting is needed - prior to this year's general election in November is something that the Planning Department would determine before presenting information to council, said Cody.
Parker expects to have preliminary data to share with members of council as early as its next meeting; council is scheduled to meet Tuesday, April 15 at 6 p.m. in Georgia Southern University's Nessmith-Lane Continuing Education Building.
Jeff Harrison can be reached at (912) 489-9454.