Steamboat Springs If data from the U.S. Census Bureau is correct, the population of Steamboat Springs declined 3 percent from 2000 to 2007.
City planners disagree.
The problem, they say, is the data provided by the bureau did not accurately measure the town's population either in 2000 or 2007.
As the Steamboat Springs Planning Department - which has faced a flood of development applications and growth proposals in recent years - prepares to update population estimates for 2008, it is taking a close look at the assumptions made by the national office and preparing its own citywide head count.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Steamboat Springs was 9,516 in July 2007. That is nearly 2,000 residents short of the 11,496 people the city planners estimate live in Steamboat.
Both numbers are estimates calculated from the 2000 census, but that count did not include a substantial area around the base of Mount Werner, said Jason Peasley, the city planner in charge of this year's population compilation.
Instead of a small decrease, the city actually has grown by 13 percent since 2000, said Tom Leeson, the city's director of planning and community development.
"They tend to look at it in a countywide view as opposed to citywide," Leeson said.
Because of that discrepancy, any figures based on the initial 2000 estimate would be flawed. The city filed a challenge to the bureau, and after a monthlong discussion, the numbers for 2007 were raised, Peasley said, but that has not yet been factored into official figures.
The correct data is important for reasons ranging from federal funding to a better understanding of the city's growth, Steamboat Springs City Council President Loui Antonucci said.
"It helps to understand the need to create maybe more fire stations or police stations," he said.
Antonucci added that simple observations in Steamboat raise his skepticism of the federal numbers showing a drop in population during the past seven years.
"Just living here and driving down the street, I don't see that," he said.
The figures also give city planners such as Peasley a better understanding about what the city needs as it expands.
"For us, it's helpful to understand the amount of growth that we've seen in the community," he said. "It's another way to keep tabs on tracking Steamboat's growth."
This year's estimate will be released in mid-August, Peasley said. The estimate is created by adding numbers of building permits and demolitions during the past 12 months to the previous year's city population figure. From there, the city determines the number of vacancies and average number of people per residence.
In Steamboat, the vacancy rate is estimated at about 45 percent. That's higher than the state average but lower than resort towns including Vail, Winter Park and Breckenridge, which range from 66 to 79 percent vacancy rates.
"Steamboat is unique in that it's a little more of a permanent resident town. It's a regional center," Peasley said.
The rates for residency and vacancies aren't based on any particular time of year or a percentage of the year that second-home owners stay in town, Peasley said. Rather, the rates are averages of all the potential residences, other than hotel rooms, during the course of the year.
"This, we feel, is fairly accurate, given that we use fairly concrete numbers," he said.