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Boonsboro's census totals just don't add up

August 03, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the population of Boonsboro at 3,240 - but somebody forgot to tell the town's mayor where all the extra people came from.

"That's nowhere close," said Charles F. "Skip" Kauffman Jr. "It sure surprised me.  I don't know where they got that from."

According to Town Planner Jim Brittain, Boonsboro's population stands at 2,609, up from 2,445 when the 1990 census was conducted. But town officials say there is no way the town has surpassed the 3,000 mark and insist the figure is a mistake.

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"It could be. You try estimating the population of thousands of towns across the country," said Mark Goldstein, an economist with the Maryland Office of Planning. "You could easily mess up - especially in small places."

Even Census Bureau officials admit their methods are not foolproof. Greg Harper, a demographer-statistician for the federal agency, said the latest figures are from 1994.

Traditionally, the agency has estimated the population of small towns every two years.

The primary method has been to track migration using IRS tax returns, Harper said. Although highly accurate in pegging the population of counties, he said the method has problems counting residents of small areas.

In the 1980 census, Harper said residents were asked detailed questions about where they live. Using zip codes, addresses were coded to track future changes in population.

While that information has been periodically updated, the changes have never been systematic. As a result, Harper said, annexations, address styles and other changes have skewed the results in certain areas.

Harper said it is particularly problematic when dealing with parts of counties whose growth rates differ dramatically from the county as a whole.

"If you had a place that was growing fast in a slow-growth county, you could have a problem," Harper said.

Harper said municipalities that believe they have been miscounted by the Census Bureau can appeal for a recount. He said the bureau changed 33 of its 1994 estimates.

Kauffman said most state grants are based on median income, not population. And it can't hurt if federal officials over count the town's population, he added.

"It's probably in our favor to let them think what they think," he said.

The 1996 population estimates are due in September, but Harper said he does not know what Boonsboro will show. The trend since 1990 has been consistent, though.

"We're showing it has grown from '90 fairly steadily. I don't know what the reason for that is," Harper said.

One possibility could be that growth around Boonsboro has mistakenly been applied to town.

Growth in county

Goldstein, of the state planning office, data showed that Washington County gained 1,750 residents from Frederick County between 1990 and 1995.

"There does seem to be this growth in Washington County due to intrastate migration," he said. "Most of this migration seems to be coming from Frederick County."

But while conventional wisdom holds that Boonsboro is growing like a weed, Kauffman said there is not much evidence of it. The Crestview development has added a few homes, but he said most of the growth has taken place outside the town.

If Boonsboro mailing addresses are incorrectly coded as Boonsboro proper addresses, Harper said the town's population figure might be artificially high.

"For a town that small, it wouldn't take many poorly coded returns to affect the number," he said.

Harper said the 1996 estimates should be more accurate since they rely on different techniques. Population changes are measured by examining building and demolition permits, he said.

Harper said if officials could not detect major housing growth or large-scale demolition, "then it's a pretty good bet that the town's population is stable."

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