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County population on the rise

Although the latest state, national and county population estimates show different pictures of population growth, all three share one fact in common: Island County is growing.

With new homes going up all over the island, the growth is visible. However, arriving at a common population estimate is apparently difficult.

Population estimates for Island County for 2004 range from 74,800 to nearly 79,000. According to one county official, people are moving to the island for different reasons.

Jeff Tate, Island County’s assistant planning director, said 8 to 9 percent of the people living on South Whidbey are couples who own second homes here. By comparison, 2 to 3 percent of homes statewide are purchased as a second home.

“Of the four planning area regions, South Whidbey will probably have the highest percentage of second homes,” Tate said.

At the same time, he said, families with children are buying many of the homes on Camano Island.

The main challenge faced by population estimators is determining how many people actually live in the county. Using various counting techniques, the population numbers vary.

U.S. Census Bureau estimates released Thursday shows a growth in the county’s population from 76,643 to 79,293 between July 2003 to July 2004. That shows more than 2,500 people moving to the county, a population jump of nearly 3.5 percent.

Population estimates complied by the state Office of Financial Management, however, estimate than only 800 more people moved to the county between April 2003 and April 2004. The 1.1-percent OFM estimate starts with a smaller base population, thought by the agency to be 74,000 in 2003. OFM released its figures in April 2004.

Tate said he believes the county’s population truly lies between the state estimate of 74,800 and the 79,293 estimated by the Census Bureau.

Island County published its own population estimate in June 2004. It shows 77,261 people living in the county this year. And according to county statistics, the county’s population will continue to grow. By 2015, the population could grow to 92,770 residents, and to 110,050 by 2025. This is an overall growth of 42 percent.

More than 27,000 people moved to the county between 1980 and 2000, according to the Census Bureau. In those 20 years, the county’s population grew from 44,048 to 71,558.

Yi Zhao, OFM’s senior forecaster, said she attributes the differences in the estimates to the survey methods used. The Census Bureau mainly takes into consideration new building permits, she said. People already living in a location moving from smaller to larger homes pump up the population figures as well.

She said OFM makes its estimates by contacting cities and counties to collect data on postal delivery, vital statistics, voter and automobile registrations, employment and Medicare.

Tate said the county compiled its population estimates by averaging between OFM’s medium and high population projections of the county’s population.

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