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Towns question census count

March 21, 2001

Towns question census count



By JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Washington County planners say Census 2000's population count was generally accurate, but two mayors believe their towns were undercounted.

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"I think they're wrong," said Williamsport Mayor John Slayman.

Slayman said the town's population may have dropped slightly from 1990 to 2000, but not by the 235 people the census reported. The census recorded 1,868 residents in 2000.

"Somebody's missed the boat someplace," Slayman said.

Funkstown Mayor Robert Kline believes that town's population remained stable at approximately the 1,136 people the 1990 census reported. According to Census 2000, however, the town population dropped 13.5 percent to 983 residents.

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"I don't like what I see, but we'll get through," Kline said.

Census numbers are used to draw congressional and local election districts and to determine the distribution of government funding.

Kline said census workers may have missed some residents who were at work when the door-to-door residential checks were made.

Door-to-door surveys appear to have improved Smithsburg's participation in Census 2000.

Smithsburg Mayor Tommy Bowers was concerned about problems with the distribution of census forms last year, but believes the door-to-door sweep caught a lot of the people who did not receive forms.

"Boy, it looked like a boondoggle for a while," Bowers said.

Now that Bowers has seen the town's 2000 count of 2,146 residents, he says it's "close enough for me."

"The results are a lot better than I expected," said Bowers, who was one of the residents who never received a census form in the mail. He picked up his form at Town Hall.

Boonsboro Town Planner, James Brittain, also believes the count is fairly accurate.

While Boonsboro grew 14.6 percent since 1990, its growth has slowed compared to previous decades, Brittain said.

The town will continue to grow with more houses to be built in the Crestview development, which was responsible for much of the growth in the past decade, he said.

Hancock Mayor Dan Murphy said he wouldn't argue about the 10 percent drop in Hancock's population over the last decade.

Murphy said he's seen fewer young families in town in recent years, with many of them choosing instead to live outside town limits.

Hancock's under-18 population was 423 in 2000, compared with 524 youths in 1990.

Robert Arch, the county's director of planning and community development, said Census 2000 verified his department's methods for estimating and projecting population.

County planners estimated the county's 2000 population would be 131,813. That's 110 people fewer than were counted in Census 2000.

The county projects population by using housing units, building permits and state projections for the average household size in 2000, which was 2.45 people per household.

The county's population includes inmates at the three state prisons south of Hagerstown. As of Monday, there were 6,884 inmates at the complex. Census 2000 statistics on housing, including group homes such as prisons, aren't expected to be released until June.

A big reasons Census 2000 appears to be more accurate than 1990's census is technology, Arch said.

Population count methods have improved drastically with the advent of technology such as the Geographic Information System, known as GIS, Arch said.

Using GIS, the county has better records of local addresses. The county provided that list to the U.S. Census Bureau, Arch said.

Sharpsburg Mayor Sidney Gale also thinks the 2000 census was more accurate than the 1990 census.

While Gale didn't live in the southern Washington County town during 1990, he'd been told census counters missed entire blocks that year.

The 2000 count shows almost a 5 percent gain, but Gale said the town's population really remained stable. The current count was just more accurate, he said.

Census 2000 hasn't thrown the Washington County Board of Education any curves either.

The growth shown during the last decade has been or will be addressed in the next five years with classroom additions, said Dennis McGee, the board's director of facilities management.

Classrooms were added to Smithsburg and Lincolnshire elementary schools to accommodate growth in the Smithsburg and Halfway areas, McGee said.

Construction to add five classrooms and a gymnasium to Williamsport Elementary will begin this summer, McGee said.

While the census showed a decline in Williamsport's population, it showed growth in the nearby Halfway area. Children in the Van Lear Manor community and along Sterling Road are in Williamsport Elementary's school district.

In 1993, Eastern Elementary was opened in the growing Robinwood area.

During the 1990 census the area now known as Robinwood was referred to as Mount Aetna. The boundaries changed slightly for the 2000 census, but the core area remains the same.

In Census 2000 the area called Mount Aetna better represents the actual geographic community known as Mount Aetna, which is southeast of Robinwood.

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