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County is near top in growth

April 15, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County outpaced all but four others across the state in population growth last year, at 2 percent, according to Census Bureau figures released Thursday.

According to the Census Bureau data, the county's population grew by 2,683 residents from 2003 to 2004, bringing its total population from 136,941 to 139,624.

Statewide, Maryland added 45,748 residents last year to grow to 5,558,058 residents.

Calvert and Cecil counties, which saw population increases of 2.8 percent from 2003 to 2004, were the state's fastest-growing counties by percentage, followed by Charles (2.7) and St. Mary's (2.4).

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Washington County Public Schools Chief Operating Officer William Blum said he is not surprised by the figures, attributing the county's growth to the quality of life residents enjoy here. Board of Education projections approved in February call for enrollment to increase by between 500 and 600 students a year over the next five years, he said.

Blum said the school system has been working with state officials to revise its enrollment forecasts, which based on historical trends predicted no growth at all in the system last year.

"I think the state is aware that their prior projections are not as high as they should be," Blum said.

Faced with the rising demand for housing in Hagerstown, city officials have been forced to reinvest in infrastructure. For the fiscal year beginning July 1, the city's budget calls for $32.8 million in capital spending, including road projects, sewer system upgrades and heavy equipment and vehicles purchases.

According to published reports, the city is planning to increase spending on its sewer system from $7.9 million this fiscal year to $10.2 million in its new budget.

"It's a combination of the growth and rainwater and groundwater getting into the (treatment) plant," City Planning Director Kathleen Maher said of concerns about the city's current system.

Maher said Hagerstown is not alone in facing growth issues, as other Washington County municipalities including Boonsboro and Smithsburg have both seen population increases over the past few years as well.

Garrett County added the fewest residents - 31 - to grow to 30,093 residents. Allegany County's population growth of 41 residents was second-lowest. The county had 73,830 residents.

Staff writer Karen Hanna contributed to this story.

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