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Flathead County moves ahead on redistricting, health board agreement

by CHAD SOKOL
Daily Inter Lake | October 8, 2021 12:00 AM

The Flathead County commissioners on Tuesday took another step toward setting new district boundaries based on population figures from the 2020 Census, and ratified an agreement that will change the makeup of the Flathead City-County Health Board.

The commissioners — Republicans Brad Abell, Pam Holmquist and Randy Brodehl — have agreed to a plan that would give each of their districts approximately 34,800 constituents.

Abell represents District 1, which covers the northern portion of the county including Columbia Falls and most of Whitefish. Holmquist represents District 2, which covers Evergreen and the southeastern corner of the county. And Brodehl represents District 3, which covers most of Kalispell and the area to the west, including Kila and Marion.

The decennial Census, completed in April 2020, showed Flathead County gained more than 13,400 residents over the previous decade, a nearly 15% increase that gave the county a population of more than 104,000 and made it the fourth largest county in Montana.

Roughly half of that growth occurred within the city limits of Kalispell, Whitefish and Columbia Falls, while the rest occurred in unincorporated parts of the county.

The growth also left the commission districts with uneven numbers of constituents — roughly 34,200 in District 1, 33,600 in District 2 and 36,600 in District 3, according to county records.

THE COMMISSIONERS on Tuesday signed a "resolution of intent" to approve a proposal that would shrink District 3, moving roughly 600 people from the southern part of Whitefish to District 1 and roughly 1,200 people from the southern part of Kalispell to District 2.

Brodehl said the proposal would have the "smallest impact" to the existing districts of all the options the county considered.

The area in Whitefish that would be redistricted covers 1,772 acres. It's bound by U.S. 93 to the west, Willow Glen Drive to the east and Hodgson Road to the south. The northern edge would be near Blanchard Lake Road.

The area in Kalispell that would be redistricted covers 332 acres. It's bound by U.S. 93 to the west, Whitefish Stage Road to the east and a jagged line to the north around 18th Street East and Haven Drive.

Tuesday's vote started a 30-day period during which the public can submit comments on the redistricting proposal. The commissioners are expected to hold a final vote on the proposal in early November. Maps of the proposed districts can be found in the commissioners' meeting minutes on the county's website.

ALSO TUESDAY, the commissioners unanimously voted to ratify an agreement that gives the cities of Whitefish and Columbia Falls formal representation on the Flathead-City County Health Board.

Previously, Kalispell was the only one of the three incorporated cities with the power to appoint members to the board, which has been thrust into the public spotlight during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The three city councils also unanimously approved the agreement.

Assistant editor Chad Sokol may be reached at 406-758-4439 or csokol@dailyinterlake.com.