Local officials following censusPublished 9:40am Friday, March 11, 2011
A shrinking population in Freeborn County could mean a change in services provided to residents of Freeborn County, specifically those through Freeborn County Public Health.
Freeborn County Administrator John Kluever said if the county has fewer than 30,000 people, then it must share public health services with either the Freeborn County Department of Human Services or with another county.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau estimates released on Monday, Freeborn County’s population might have shrunk from about 32,584 in 2000 to 30,897 in 2010. That’s a difference of 1,700 people.
But those are estimates and are not as precise as census counts. Minnesota’s counts are expected to be out sometime next week.
Kluever said lower census estimates are not the reason that the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners is undecided on whether to permanently replace the position of the public health director. Lois Ahern held that position until she retired in February. Sue Yost is the interim director.
“If the board decided to fill the position, that would take several weeks to do, and the census numbers would come out prior to filling it,” Kluever said.
Census data, specifically population and housing data, is also used to determine distribution of more than $400 billion in federal funds to local, state and tribal governments each year, as well as to determine the distribution of congressional seats to states, community and school funding, just to name a few.
Here in Freeborn County, the data is also important in determining district boundaries. If a population shift within the county is indicated by the census numbers within, it could mean redistricting the county commissioners’ districts.
Kluever said he wasn’t surprised about the drop in population estimates, as that’s been the trend going back over the last 20 years.
“Part of it is because this is such a heavily agricultural area,” Kluever said. “The evolution of the family farm becoming less in numbers and larger farming operations coming in all come into play.”
He said loss of industry, including the Farmland Foods packing house fire in 2001, may have also contributed to this estimated decline.
“Economic development in general creates jobs,” he said. “If jobs are created, then one could make the argument that could slow the loss and steady the ground.”
Dan Dorman, executive director of the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency, agreed that the change in agriculture could’ve played into a lower population estimate for the county, but he encourages people not to be alarmed by these new estimates.
“I think we’ve hit the bottom, and we’re coming back up,” he said.
Dorman cited population trend estimates provided by the Minnesota State Demographic Center in June 2007. This is a report that projects population trends for all 87 counties in the state, from 2005 through 2035.
Looking at Minnesota as a whole, Dorman said the state population is expected to grow, with the majority of that in a metro area corridor from St. Cloud to Rochester.
“Areas like Freeborn and Mower counties, and border counties in south central Minnesota that border the metro areas are projected to lose population — what we’re seeing now — and then show slight growth over the next 20 years,” Dorman said.
He said areas in the southwest corner of the state are projected to see significant loss over the next 25 years.
In 2010, the state projected a Freeborn County population of 31,950 people. By 2020, the state projects the population of 32,050. By 2035, that number will dip slightly to 31,940.
A total population loss of 1 percent is projected to occur in Freeborn County between 2005 and 2035.
“The best chance we have for additional growth is going to be the expansion of business that’s already here, whether that’s in Albert Lea or any community,” Dorman said.
He said the edge Albert Lea will have over other nearby communities is that it’s a very liveable community.
For the city of Albert Lea, the census figures could also bring up the subject of redistricting, if those figures reveal a shift in population within the city limits. Census numbers could also affect the local government aid received by the city. Estimates for populations for Albert Lea and other cities in Freeborn County have not yet been released.
The 2000 census reported Albert Lea’s population as 18,356.
The Census Bureau will compare these estimates with the official 2010 census counts once every state’s data has been released.