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Officials not concerned about population decline

Published 10:41pm Thursday, March 24, 2011

ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County’s population decreased 3.5 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau this week.
But county officials are not too worried about losing revenue from the population decline — at least in comparison to other recent developments.
“When the governor knocks 34 percent off revenue sharing, I’m not too worried about 3.5 percent (reduction in population). I’m not too worried about 5,000 people,” County Administrator Bill Wolf told the commissioners in the administration committee Thursday.
The 34 percent reduction as proposed in Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget would mean the loss of $1.25 million in revenue for Berrien County.
The county’s population dropped from 162,453 to 156,813, but Wolf said he wasn’t too surprised by the slight drop.
The census figures do not account for the county’s strong second home market.
“People continue to buy second homes, summer homes in New Buffalo, St. Joseph and Hagar. (The census) doesn’t account for part-time residents,” Wolf said.
Cass County, meanwhile, saw a 2.4 percent boost in population over the 10 years, growing by 1,189 residents. VanBuren lost only five residents, basically staying pat at its 2000 population of 76,263. Other nearby counties, St. Joseph (Mich.) and Kalamazoo, dropped 1,127 and 3,000 residents respectively.
The city of Niles saw a 5 percent drop in population over the decade, going from 12,206 to 11,600.
Niles City Administrator Terry Eull was not surprised by the numbers.
“The 2008 estimate actually had shown a larger loss,” he said. “Ninety percent of cities and villages (in Michigan) lost population, so it’s not a surprise.”
Eull said the biggest factor in the population loss is obvious — the state’s economy.
“Michigan has lost 860,000 jobs, so I’m surprised we haven’t lost more people,” he said.
The loss of population will mean another hit to the city’s pocketbook. Michigan municipalities are already facing the loss of statutory revenue sharing funds under Snyder’s proposed budget. And entitlement revenue sharing funds, guaranteed by the state constitution, will also decrease with Niles’ loss in population, Eull said.
Niles Township gained 839 residents, a 6.3 percent increase. Bertrand and Buchanan townships also saw gains of 11.6 and 0.4 percent respectively.
Eull said people moving to townships has been a trend for a while with people leaving cities for wide-open rural areas.
“Niles Township has gained because it has a lot of land. There are people building houses. There is room to expand,” he said. “In Niles (city) there is not much room for new buildings and there is older housing stock.”
Michigan was the only state in the country to lose population over the decade, shrinking by 0.6 percent to 9.88 million. The state stands to lose a seat in the House of Representatives.

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