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Population shifts paint new portraits of towns

Numbers show change in Washington Co. communities

February 12, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • The Cannon Ridge housing development is seen Friday in Keedysville. Cannon Ridge is one of two developments that are largely responsible for the town's growth in the past decade.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

The 2010 census could be seen as a paint-by-numbers project.

Washington County's canvas is full of new houses and townhouses that were built during the housing boom in the mid-2000s.

But census figures released last week also indicate how some of those housing developments never got off the ground and some homes ended up in foreclosure, officials with county and municipal governments said.

Smithsburg and Keedysville grew significantly, which would be obvious to anyone who's driven past new developments such as Whispering Hills in Smithsburg or Rockingham and Cannon Ridge in Keedysville.

Smithsburg added more residents, 829 from 2000 to 2010, while Keedysville had the greatest percentage growth — 139 percent — of the county's municipalities.

"It affected the town big time there for a while. We had to keep up with our services," Smithsburg Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers said.

The town now has four police officers, including the chief, up from two or three officers in 2000, Myers said.

During the housing boom, the town was "constantly being bombarded with developers who wanted to annex in and a lot of those, in the last couple of years, just fell by the wayside because they didn't finish because the economy dropped," Myers said.



Hagerstown growth

Much of the growth during the decade was in southern and eastern Washington County, but Hagerstown also experienced a building boom before the economy slumped.

Thirty-nine annexations were completed in Hagerstown from March 2000 to February 2010, according to a list provided by the Hagerstown Planning Department. Many of them were zoned residential.

There also were several subdivisions within the city, Hagerstown Planning Director Kathy Maher said.

The new housing included Hager's Crossing near Walmart, Greenwich Park along Mount Aetna Road, Collegiate Acres between Salem Avenue/Md. 58 and Maugansville Road, and several new homes in the East End of Hagerstown around Pangborn Elementary and off Pangborn Boulevard, Maher said.

City officials will use the census data, as well as demographic information from the American Community Survey, to compare the city to the county and peer cities to get a sense of the community's prosperity and health, Maher said. Then they can explore what could be done to help make the city more attractive to new residents, she wrote in an e-mail to The Herald-Mail.

Census population numbers will also be used to redraw lines for election districts and are important for states, counties and cities in qualifying for federal dollars.

"It equates to about $842 per citizen per year in federal money," Washington County Commissioners Vice President John Barr said.



The small get smaller

Funkstown and the county's two most western towns — Hancock and Clear Spring — lost population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Clear Spring remains the county's smallest town, by population, and got even smaller in the last decade. The town's population dropped 21 percent, from 455 people in 2000 to 358 in 2010, according to census data.

"It's surprising to me because of the apartments we have," Clear Spring Mayor Paul Hose Jr. said. "But we do have a lot of vacant places."

In 2010, 32 of the town's 189 housing units were vacant, according to the  2010 census. Vacancy figures can include homes that are vacant because they are for sale or rent and seasonal homes, according to the census director's blog at http://blogs.census.gov/2010census.

Hancock Mayor Dan Murphy said the decrease of 180 residents in that town during the 10-year period was "very believable."

Hancock lost a 52-unit trailer park, Vista Village, on the east side of town to make way for a 70-unit development of single-family homes and townhouses, Town Manager David Smith said. The new development never materialized due to the bad economy, he said.

Murphy said many of the Vista Village residents moved out of Hancock, some to West Virginia or Pennsylvania.



Counting on the mail

Funkstown Mayor Paul N. Crampton Jr. said he thinks the census missed some Funkstown residents.

The town's population decreased from 983 people in 2000 to 904 in 2010, the figures show.

"I don't think the population changed that much, but if that's the number, that's what the number is," Crampton said.

The percentage of residents who mailed back census forms last year in Funkstown was 25 percent compared with 63 percent in 2000, according to Census.gov.

Funkstown does not have home mail delivery, so residents have post office boxes. Census forms were not mailed to post office boxes, according to the census director's blog.

 Census workers would have knocked on doors in town up to six times in an attempt to get demographic information from residents, census spokesman Tom Edwards said. The door-to-door count was done in May, June and July 2010, he said.

Most of Funkstown's residents probably got a knock on the door and did the census in person or over the phone with a census taker, Edwards said. If no one was home, residents probably got a note saying the census taker would return or the resident could call with the information, he said.

For some homes in the country, census takers couldn't reach residents and ended up talking to neighbors, rental agents or building managers in an attempt to at least get some basic information, such as how many people lived at the home and their gender, Edwards said.

Crampton said he'd have to talk to the town clerk/treasurer and Town Council to determine whether the town would file an appeal concerning the town's 2010 population.

Elected officials can challenge their jurisdiction's count for certain reasons, including inaccurate reporting of boundaries and residents excluded due to processing errors, according to a census brochure.

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