HJ-ED-DHJ

Nov. 13, 2006

Population projections for Wright Co. horribly wrong

By John Holler
Correspondent

There’s an axiom that says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But, is there a counter-axiom that says, “If it doesn’t work, why keep it?”

That would seem to be the sentiment when it comes to the Minnesota State Demographic Center and its attempts to project populations into the future. Once viewed as a key tool for long-term planning, many of the demographer’s long-term projections, especially as they pertain to Wright County, have become a joke.

As part of the list of supporting materials for the revision to the county’s water management plan, a population projection for Wright County was included. The study, which was based on 2004 populations, was incredibly off in many major respects – not the least of which being that it had the county’s overall population for 2005 at 100,260. But the demographer’s own figures, which are used in between census periods as the legal population totals in the state, had Wright County’s 2005 population at 110,829.

“It’s hard to believe that these figures could be this far off, seeing as the numbers were going forward from 2004,” said Kerry Saxton of the Wright Soil and Water Conservation District. “The projections were included in the water management plan materials to show the growth in the county and as indicators for potential problems in the future for the areas of hard surfaces that can cause water pollution. But, if these numbers are this wrong, I’m not sure how useful they can be.”

The population numbers have problems in several respects. Six cities in the county – Buffalo, Delano, Hanover, Monticello, Otsego, and St. Michael – are already at or above the populations projected for 2010. Even more disconcerting is that the cities of Clearwater, Dayton, Montrose, South Haven, and Waverly, and the Townships of Buffalo, Franklin, Middleville, and Victor have already exceeded the populations estimated for 2030.

When asked about these huge discrepancies, Martha McMurray of the State Demographer’s Office said that the formula used to determine future growth is based on past trends, but, in the case of Wright County, was hard-pressed to determine why the numbers are off by so much.

“Projections are different from annual population estimates,” McMurray said. “We use the best information we have available at the time. You look at past trends and try to predict the future. The numbers are inexact, but the best projections for future growth that we can go with.”

When it comes to Wright County, keeping the projections even close to the actual growth in population has been something that the demographer’s office has consistently undershot in the past and, if the current numbers are any indication, continue to misfire on.

“The demographer’s numbers for Wright County have always been low,” Planning and Zoning Administrator Tom Salkowski said. “I’m not sure exactly what they use to arrive at their numbers, but when it comes to Wright County, they’ve always come in lower than the actual population figures.”

Salkowski said his office has done some work in-house to determine population growth patterns, using demographer numbers, city comprehensive plans and new housing data to determine how much a specific area is expected to grow in the short- and long-term. But with the demographer projections being consistently wrong and below the actual population numbers, they aren’t as useful in determining long-term population growth.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the demographer’s office was subject to budget cuts in the 1990s. Once a part of the Office of State Planning, when budgets got tight in the last decade, the office was eliminated and the demographer was folded into the Department of Administration. Even the annual numbers, which are used as official population figures by the state to disburse funding to cities and townships, are hard to understand.

“There isn’t a solid basis for understanding their formula for determining growth,” Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala said. “They use home building permits as a guideline, but have a different population number for a city like Annandale than they do for a city like Cokato. I’ve never had it explained why those figures are different or how they arrive at those numbers. For the cities and townships involved, having an accurate reporting of their populations is important, but I’m not sure how they arrive at the figures they do.”

Neither, it would seem, do the people within the demographer’s office, itself. When asked if the numbers were purely guesses, McMurray said that, while there isn’t a hard basis-in-fact for the numbers, it isn’t even intended to be a set-in-stone projection.

“It’s not exactly guesswork,” McMurray said. “But it isn’t hard science. You see what the trends are from the past and project to the future. You tend to be right on the growth, but the exact extent of the growth isn’t always accurate.”

McMurray said that the last population projections began in 2002 and were released in 2004. There haven’t been any since, and she said there has been debate within the demographer’s office whether to continue doing such projections. Seeing that the final version of the Wright County Water Management Plan will likely no longer include the demographer’s projections because of their gross inaccuracy, perhaps it’s a good idea not to continue the projection process. Considering how off some of the numbers are, it might also be time for the state to take a second look at how accurate their annual projections are, since many cities and townships are held to the population figures the demographer’s office creates.

By the numbers

The following are the population figures currently being used by the State Demographic Center for the projected populations of the cities and townships in Wright County. In many instances, the populations projected for anywhere for 2010 to 2030 have already been exceeded. The population projections have been broken down by commissioner district.

District 1 (Commissioner Karla Heeter)

City/Township 2005 2010 2020 2030 % Change (2005-30)

Annandale 2,732 2,919 3,257 3,548 29.87

Buffalo #1 and #2 5,904 6,654 7,646 8,636 46.27

Chatham Township 1,210 1,318 1,512 1,679 38.76

Clearwater 901 990 1,152 1,308 45.17

Clearwater Township 1,396 1,468 1,598 1,711 22.56

Corinna Township 2,467 2,611 2,869 3,092 25.33

Maple Lake Township 2,137 2,229 2,396 2,540 18.86

Silver Creek Township 2,400 2,571 2,879 3,146 31.08

Total 19,150 20,760 22,157 25,660 33.99

District 2 (Commissioner Pat Sawatzke)

City/Township 2005 2010 2020 2030 % Change (2005-30)

Dayton (partial) 18 15 13 12 -33.33

Monticello 9,177 10,431 12,711 13,552 47.67

Monticello Township 4,075 4,134 4,235 4,326 6.16

Otsego 8,396 9,240 11,051 12,504 48.93

Total 21,666 23,820 28,010 30,394 40.28

District 3 (Commissioner Jack Russek)

City/Township 2005 2010 2020 2030 % Change (2005-30)

Buffalo #3 2,952 3,327 3,823 4,318 46.27

Delano 4,056 4,451 5,168 5,783 42.58

Franklin Township 2,642 2,618 2,567 2,528 -4.31

Rockford (partial) 3,620 3,980 4,663 5,246 44.92

Rockford Township 3,316 3,303 3,275 3,255 -1.84

Waverly 747 785 855 915 22.49

Woodland Township 1,123 1,137 1,162 1,185 5.52

Total 18,817 19,601 21,513 23,230 23.45

District 4 (Commissioner Elmer Eichelberg)

City/Township 2005 2010 2020 2030 %Change (2005-30)

Albertville 4,875 5,951 7,911 8,753 79.55

Buffalo #4 2,952 3,327 3,823 4,318 46.27

Buffalo Township 1,850 1,804 1,714 1,638 -11.46

Hanover (partial) 1,503 1,803 2,348 2,815 87.29

St. Michael #1 and #2 11,799 13,795 17,429 20,539 74.07

Total 22,979 26,680 33,225 38,063 65.64

District 5 (Commissioner Dick Mattson)

City/Township 2005 2010 2020 2030 %Change (2005-30)

Albion Township 1,168 1,182 1,206 1,227 5.05

Cokato 2,756 2,925 3,230 3,494 26.78

Cokato Township 1,299 1,363 1,480 1,581 21.71

French Lake Township 1,154 1,217 1,331 1,430 23.92

Howard Lake 1,893 2,031 2,280 2,495 31.80

Maple Lake 1,646 1,721 1,857 1,976 20.05

Marysville Township 2,109 2,193 2,342 2,472 17.21

Middleville Township 916 912 905 900 -1.75

Montrose 1,436 1,564 1,795 1,995 38.93

South Haven 186 184 180 177 -4.82

Southside Township 1,585 1,689 1,877 2,039 28.64

Stockholm Township 819 833 857 878 7.20

Victor Township 1,046 1,036 1,016 1,000 -4.40

Total 18,013 18,850 20,356 21,664 20.27

County total 100,260 126,410 38.65 109,710 139,010


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