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Census shows Washington County growth

March 20, 2001

Census shows Washington County growth



By JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Washington County's population grew 8.7 percent from 1990 to 2000, with Smithsburg showing the highest growth - 76 percent - among the county's municipalities, according to unadjusted U.S. Census 2000 figures released Monday.

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While Smithsburg had the biggest percentage growth, Boonsboro remained the second largest city in the county with 2,803 residents.

The county seat, Hagerstown, grew by 3.5 percent to 36,687 residents, which was good news to city officials who weren't sure the census would show growth in the Hub City.

The Census 2000 figures confirmed Planning Director Ric Kautz's suspicion that earlier estimates by the Census Bureau were too low.

Kautz said earlier estimates from the Census Bureau showed a decline in city population, when city officials believed that it was in fact growing.

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In the early 1990s the Census Bureau estimated population based on tax records, but switched to building permit data in the mid-1990s, Kautz said.

Building permits don't take into account the families moving into existing homes vacated by senior citizens who moved into nursing homes, Kautz said.

Smithsburg's increase to 2,146 residents in 2000 didn't surprise Smithsburg Mayor Tommy Bowers, former Mayor Mickey Myers or Washington County planning officials, who said most of that growth occurred during a build-up of housing developments such as Whispering Hills and Mountain Shadows in the early 1990s.

Those areas were annexed in the late 1980s and built up in the early 1990s, said Myers, who was a Town Council member in the late 1980s and mayor in the mid-1990s.

While developers built the houses, it was country living and good schools that attracted people to those developments, Myers said. "We've got excellent athletic programs and excellent academic programs," Myers said.

Bowers said growth has slowed in recent years but is starting to pick up again. He called Smithsburg a "pretty, quaint area."

"Realtors use the schools as a selling point," Bowers said.

Many of the town's homebuyers in the 1990s grew up in the area and knew its benefits, Myers said.

The town also has attracted people willing to commute from Smithsburg to work in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., or the metropolitan suburbs, Myers said.

Hagerstown City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said the city's growth is an "encouraging sign" and something the "community can be proud of," given that some older cities are experiencing declines in population.

Residential growth is important to expand the tax base and attract investment to the community, Zimmerman said.

There are few places available in the city for new residential development, so city officials will be looking at annexing land for development and strengthening existing neighborhoods, Zimmerman said.

"As an older city we're bound to have older residential properties," Zimmerman said. Neighborhood improvements need to continue to attract people to those properties.

Hagerstown remained the sixth largest city in the state, while Frederick was the second largest. Frederick, which experienced 31 percent growth from 1990 to 2000, had a population of 52,767 in 2000.

Washington County remained the ninth largest county in the state with 131,923 people in 2000. That includes the inmate population at the three state prisons south of Hagerstown, which as of Monday stood at 6,884.

Robert Arch, the county's director of planning and community development, said the census count was about the same as the county's projected population for that year.

The census added several places to its count at the county's request, including Robinwood, Paramount-Long Meadow and Wilson-Conococheague.

Robinwood's population in 2000 was 4,731, according to the census.

That includes many of the people who in the 1990 census were counted in the Mount Aetna area, Arch said. Boundary lines for such places changed from 1990 to 2000.

In 1990 Mount Aetna's population was 3,608, but dropped to 838 people in 2000 because of the boundary changes.

Census numbers are used to redraw congressional and state election districts and to determine distribution of government funding.

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