Baby booms to building lots: Towns talk Census
ADDISON COUNTY — According to 2010 U.S. Census data, Addison County’s population grew by just 2.3 percent in the past decade, from 35,974 to 36,821.
But within that overall modest trend, there were surprising numbers. Leicester and Monkton boasted the biggest percentage growth and Middlebury had the largest number of new residents. This while Goshen, Hancock, Starksboro and Vergennes all posted noteworthy declines in population.
Some individual figures baffled town officials.
As reported in the Independent’s Oct. 21 edition, Starksboro selectmen do not believe their town’s population has dropped from 1,898 to 1,777 from 2000 to 2010 — in the same 10-year period its checklist increased by 257 and neighboring towns’ populations rose. The board will contact the Census Bureau to question the counting process.
And Whiting’s 10 percent increase to 419 — the county’s third largest in percentage terms between April 2000 and April 2010 — also proved a bit of a puzzler.
“I don’t feel it,” said longtime town clerk Grace Simonds. “We’ve had one house built in the last six or seven years. There are no subdivisions.”
Simonds also noted the town’s elementary school has fewer students now than 10 years ago. Her best guess was that often on local back roads people aren’t sure where one town ends and the next begins.
Simonds said people looking for residents often come into her office, only to learn those they seek live in Shoreham or Leicester. Even residents, especially renters, are often confused. One couple, despite Simonds’ advice, insisted they lived in Whiting despite the fact they resided in a neighboring town.
“When they sent their baby’s birth certificate, they sent it to Whiting,” she said.
But in most cases, selectmen, town clerks and zoning administrators — and in one case a Middlebury College official — could offer some plausible theories for population changes, ranging from the expiration of a baby boom in Goshen to the influence of eastern Chittenden County development in Monkton.
Goshen saw the county’s single largest percentage change one way or the other — per the Census data, the town’s population dropped from 227 to 164, or 63 percent.
Selectboard chairwoman Kathy Mathis said there could be other, smaller factors, but the circle of life played the largest role: Many children were born in the late 1980s and early 1990s to Goshen parents and then counted in the 2000 Census.
“There was a definite baby boom,” she said.
Now, Mathis said, those same children have grown up and moved out.
“It used to be the (school) bus was full of kids, and now there are three or four kids on the bus,” Mathis said. “There are no vacant houses or anything like that … It’s not like there was a mass exodus.”
Other county towns that saw changes of note included:
• Leicester, a 12.9 percent increase to 1,100.
• Monkton, a 12.6 percent increase to 1,980.
• Middlebury, an increase of 313 to 8,496.
• Hancock, a 15.4 percent decrease to 323.
• Vergennes, a decrease of 153 to 2,588.
In each case, officials had explanations ready for the trends.
Leicester selectboard chairwoman Diane Benware’s town was the fastest growing in the entire county. Benware said Leicester lost dairy farms, but gained building lots in the process.
“People are putting homesites where there were farms,” she said.
Real estate prices also tend to be more affordable in the county’s southern end and Benware added that she believes Leicester taxes stack up well compared to many other area towns.
“The tax rate is fairly favorable in Leicester and has been for a number of years,” she said, adding, “The tax rate … makes it a more attractive place, for people starting out in particular.”
One more trend around Lake Dunmore and Fern Lake has added to Leicester’s year-round population, Benware said.
“Another piece of it is that cottages that once were seasonal properties have been winterized,” she said.
Monkton has grown almost as dramatically in percentage terms as Leicester, per the Census data. And the 221 residents the town added in 10 years stands second only to Middlebury among the county’s 23 towns.
And that number almost doubles the 118 residents that Monkton’s neighboring town of Ferrisburgh added in the same time frame.
Ken Wheeling has served as Monkton’s zoning administrator for most of the past 31 years, and this year assumed the same position in Ferrisburgh.
Wheeling said it’s no secret why Monkton has grown steadily for two decades.
“It’s a bedroom community,” he said. “There are properties being subdivided, and people buying from outside the town and commuting.”
Where are they working?
“I see (traffic) heading up to Hinesburg, heading up to (Route) 116,” he said. “It’s Chittenden County.”
When cars hit Hinesburg, Wheeling said they split evenly between Route 116 toward Burlington and South Burlington and Route 2A toward Williston and Essex Junction, home of IBM.
Increased development in the past decade in the Chittenden County areas east of Burlington and South Burlington helps account for greater growth in Monkton than in Ferrisburgh, Wheeling said — eastern Chittenden County employers are more easily accessible from Monkton.
Another factor in Monkton’s relatively greater growth than its neighbor, he said, is that Monkton generally features soils that are more friendly to in-ground septic systems.
“Ferrisburgh does not have the same number of subdivisions … as Monkton, and the problem is the septic,” he said.
Meanwhile, one single factor explains more than two-thirds of Middlebury’s population increase of 313.
According to Middlebury College Registrar LeRoy Graham, the college’s enrollment in spring 2000 was 2,260.
By spring 2010, the college enrollment had swelled to 2,468, an increase of 212.
Also, the Lodge at Otter Creek, a retirement community that if fully built out would have about 200 units, opened in 2008. Calls to seek the Lodge’s current occupancy level and to assess how many of its residents may have moved to Middlebury from out-of-town were not returned. However, its addition to Middlebury could certainly have added to the town’s population base.
In raw numbers, the city of Vergennes saw the largest population decrease, 153 residents. City Manager Mel Hawley said the number is probably close to accurate, in part because he believes the Census estimate of 1,072 housing units is close to the mark, and he did not quibble with the per-person estimate for each household or the number of students the Census placed at Northlands Job Corps.
Hawley did say he thinks the Census estimate of 78 empty units, equal to a 7.3 percent vacancy rate, “does jump off the page a little bit” to him.
“That seems pretty high,” he said.
Hawley did acknowledge the city has some “snowbirds” — residents who own property in Vergennes but winter in Florida or other warmer Southern state — and that the nursing home at 1 Alden Place, which has 19 beds, is closed.
Both those numbers could influence the vacancy rate, and the nursing home closure accounts for more than 10 percent of the population decline.
In percentage terms, Vergennes lost 5.9 percent of its population, putting it fourth in percentage terms after Starksboro’s contested count in third, Goshen’s big drop in first, and Hancock’s second-place 15.4-percent drop.
According to the Census data, Hancock had 59 fewer residents in 2010 than in 2000.
Hancock Town Clerk Cathy Curtis — after consultation with a handful of town residents in her office late last week — offered several suggestions for the decrease, and debunked one theory.
Curtis and the gathering agreed the closure of the major wood-processing plant on Route 125 did not affect Hancock’s population.
“A lot of the people who worked at the mill came from out of town anyway,” Curtis said.
Many favored a circle-of-life theory, but a blended one a little bit different than that in Goshen.
“We’ve lost people, a number of our older citizens over the years,” Clark said, and then adding, “You had children that grew, went to school here over a 10-year period, and then moved out.”
And there was a certain amount of skepticism in the office about how good a job the 2000 Census did counting the rural, hilly town’s population. Clark said some believe the decade-old numbers were “over-inflated,” and thus the decline is overstated.
“It could have been a factor,” she said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
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