Photo by Brian Ray
Peter Sloop, right, and his wife, Heather, enjoy a conversation while eating dinner at The Rio Grande restaurant in downtown Steamboat Springs on Friday night.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Steamboat Springs City officials disagree with state and federal census figures that say Steamboat Springs' population is shrinking, and are taking a head count into their own hands.
In June, the U.S. Census Bureau released data estimating Steamboat's population on July 1, 2006 to be 9,315 - down 14 people from July 1, 2005. It was the third year in a row, and sixth year out of seven, that the bureau estimated a population decline for Steamboat.
City planning director Tom Leeson flatly disputed that trend.
"We have definitely not gone down in population," Leeson said in June.
Thursday, Leeson said a distrust of federal and state population estimates for Steamboat has stirred the city's Planning Department to produce its own yearly estimates of the city's current population.
"We're making sure we have accurate numbers we can trust," Leeson said.
The Planning Department's estimate for Steamboat's population on July 1, 2006 is 11,221, nearly 2,000 people higher than the Census Bureau's estimate. The department's estimate for July 1 of this year is 11,496, a 2.4 percent increase from a year ago.
Leeson said the city's population estimate report was first undertaken when the city disputed estimates of the city's population from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs' State Demography Office.
"The state sent us an estimate that we felt was low," Leeson said. "We challenged it."
After the challenge, Leeson said the state increased its estimate by about 200 people.
"They were very appreciative of us going through the process," Leeson said.
Leeson said population estimates have funding implications, so it hurts the city to have lower than accurate numbers. For example, organizations such as Great Outdoors Colorado - a major grantor to the city's Parks, Open Space and Recreation Department - use population estimates to determine grant amounts, Leeson said.
A spokeswoman for the Census Bureau said in June that the bureau uses mostly administrative data - such as birth records, death records, tax records and building permit data - to arrive at the estimates. When asked how confident the bureau is in its estimates, she replied, "These are the official population estimates."
The federal data prompted local developer Jim Cook to say: "It amazes the hell out of me. I don't believe the number."
Cook said he subscribes to various reports of demographic data, all of which suggest the opposite of what the Census estimates. He said income statistics, demand on services and new construction are all up.
The Census Bureau's estimates also showed population declines in Hayden, Oak Creek and Yampa, with the largest being a five-person decline in Hayden. Despite the estimated declines in these communities, the Census Bureau estimates the population in Routt County has grown 9.6 percent since the 2000 census, from a population of 19,690 to 21,580.
A full copy of the Planning Department's population estimate report can be obtained in the department's offices at Centennial Hall, 124 10th St., or at www.steamboatsprings.net.