Battling stagnation: County, city populations changing little

Published 7:25 pm Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Although North Carolina may be one of the fastest-growing states in the nation when it comes to population, the populations of Beaufort County and Washington are not seeing that type of growth.

Late last month, the U.S. Census Bureau released population estimates for 2014, midway between the 2010 census and the upcoming 2020 census. Beaufort County’s estimated 2014 population was placed at 47,585, up from 47,429 in 2013, an increase of 56 people. The county’s 2010 population (April 1 base) was 47,773, indicating a loss of 188 from then to July 1, 2014, or a 0.4 percent decline, according to Census Bureau data.

From 2013 to July 1, 2014, North Carolina became the ninth-most populous state (up from 10th). That growth, according to the Census Bureau, was fueled by two counties that were among the 50 top numerical gainers: Wake (Raleigh), which added about 24,000 people over the period, and Mecklenburg (Charlotte), which grew by about 20,000.

County Commissioner Hood Richardson believes Beaufort County’s population stagnation goes back to two years before the 2010 census when county residents began looking for work opportunities in more urban areas such as Raleigh and Charlotte.

“Since 2008, that’s what it’s really been. The jobs are more available in the bigger cities, and people in order to get work are moving there,” Richardson said.

The commissioner said the county has options when it comes to addressing the population stagnation.

“The best single thing the county can do is try to have an environment that industry wants to be in. That is trying to find a way to work with regulations and to keep building permit fees low, which we do, and to keep all the other fees that we can low so that people would rather be here than somewhere else. Economic development — yeah, whenever you can get it, but the problem is nobody’s been economically developing for the last seven or eight years. There’s been very little of that,” Richardson said.

The Census Bureau data does not include a 2014 population estimated for the City of Washington; its latest population estimate of 9,811 is as of July 1, 2013. The city’s estimated population on April 1, 2010, was 9,742, an increase of 69 people, or a 0.7 percent increase.

Councilman Bobby Roberson, a former planning director for Washington, believes the population inside the city limits is not a true reflection of the number of people the city serves.

“One of the problems is we (the city) never stepped our annexation policies. In other words, there are a lot of areas in close proximity to the corporate limits of the city that we’ve never annexed,” Roberson said. “Originally, it alluded to the voter aspect of it, and that was a big issue — and the fact that when we originally did (the last) annexation, the infrastructure improvements, members of the council did not want to put liens on the properties for the amounts of the improvements. That was a big issue for us.”

Roberson added: “Looking at it with hindsight, one of the things they did: it was a lot easier to increase the electric rate. It generated more money than the tax rate. That in itself has remained constant for us over the years; we just haven’t had an annexation policy that brought in the population. I mean, we’ve got subdivisions all around us. Out on (U.S. Highway) 264 we’ve got Rosedale, we’ve got Beaufort Heights. As we head down 264 toward the community college, we’ve got all that property that should have been in.”

Annexation would have helped grow the city, Roberson said.

“The extraterritorial jurisdiction, our service area, is close to 15,000 to 20,000, but our population is only around 10,000,” he said. “Here’s what that is reflected in, and I have looked at it for this year. I have looked at the services. Let’s talk about the senior center. Sixty percent of the users of the senior center are outside the corporate limits of the city. If you look at our library services, 61 percent is outside the corporate limits of the city. I’m not saying we shouldn’t provide those services, but somewhere along the line this is an equity issue.”

The Census Bureau develops county, metro area, and micro area population estimates by measuring population change since the most recent census. The Census Bureau uses births, deaths, administrative records and survey data to develop estimates of population. For more detail regarding the methodology, see

See future editions of the Washington Daily News for additional articles concerning population changes in Beaufort County and Washington.





About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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