Rim Area Gains In Census

Census shows north part of county accounts for 55 percent of the 53,597 total as redistricting debate intensifies

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Just released U.S. Census figures show that about 55 percent of Gila County’s 53,597 residents live in the north end of the county — a figure that will pattern the developing political battle over redistricting.

The county’s population has barely changed in the past decade, rising just 4 percent in that time.

On the other hand, Payson’s population has risen 12 percent in the past

decade and Globe’s by 6 percent.

By contrast, Arizona’s population grew 25 percent during that same time, the second-highest growth rate in the country. However, most of that growth was concentrated in Maricopa and Pima County, with rural areas of the state continuing to lag behind those two, huge urban cores.

The just-released census figures show that in the past decade, Maricopa County’s population jumped 24 percent to 3.8 million. Within the county, Phoenix grew 9 percent to 1.4 million, Chandler grew 34 percent to 236,123, Mesa grew 11 percent to 439,000 and Glendale grew 3.6 percent to 227,000.

Pima County grew 16 percent to 980,000 — while Tucson grew 7 percent to 520,000.

The fastest growing county in the state was Pinal County, which caught the spillover from the Phoenix area with lower home prices and a horrendous

commute. Pinal County grew 109 percent to a population of 376,000.

Mohave County jumped 29 percent to 200,000, and Yavapai grew 26 percent to 211,000.

In Gila County, the 2010 census numbers suggest the population has shifted to the north.

The numbers will likely pattern a fierce political struggle centering on the once-a-decade redrawing of voting district lines — including three county supervisor seats and five Gila Community College seats.

Right now, two of the three county supervisors and three of the five Gila Community College Board members have district boundaries drawn in such a way that southern county voters dominate.

Payson now has 15,301 residents in the town boundaries and 23,807 if you include the nearby, unincorporated communities, according to the 2010 census numbers released at a community level on Friday.

Star Valley’s population stands at 2,310, Pine’s at 1,963 and Strawberry at 961. The Mesa del Caballo subdivision off Houston Mesa Road has 765 residents.

The immediate Payson area now accounts for 44 percent of the population in the entire county.

The Globe Miami area has a population of 18,134, or about 34 percent of the county population.

The San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation has the next largest concentration of residents at 5,288 — nearly 10 percent of the county population.

The large block of voters on the San Carlos Reservation will likely complicate efforts to draw district lines that fully reflect the overall shift of population to northern Gila County.

The federal rules for drawing district boundaries discourage lines that split up “communities of interest,” especially minority populations. Several court rules have held that splitting up a single, geographically cohesive minority community among multiple districts dilutes their political influence and makes it much harder for a member of that minority community to win an election.

As a result, during the last redistricting all of the San Carlos voters ended up in a single district, currently represented by Supervisor Shirley Dawson. That played a key role in assuring that two of the three supervisorial seats were dominated by southern county voters.

This year, the board of supervisors set up a theoretically independent committee to actually draw up the new district lines based on the latest census data, as required by law. Dawson and Supervisor Mike Pastor each named three south county residents to the committee. Supervisor Tommie Martin, whose district covers the bulk of northern Gila County, appointed three north county residents — giving the south two-thirds of the seats on the crucial committee.

The census figures showed that the largely rural county has barely grown in the past decade, a trend common in Arizona’s sprawling rural counties where the federal government or Indian tribes own most of the land.

Gila County has 4,767 square miles of territory with 10.8 people per square mile, compared to 45 people per square mile in the whole state.

The county is 82 percent white, compared to 86 percent statewide. The county’s population is 15 percent American Indian compared to 5 percent statewide. About 17 percent of the county’s residents are Hispanic, compared to 31 percent statewide.

Overall, 22 percent of the county’s residents are older than 65 — compared to 13 percent statewide. Gila County’s home values are 20 percent below the state average and its household income 25 percent below the state average.

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