Archive for Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Baldwin on short end of census stick

March 21, 2001

When the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau numbers were released last week, they showed Baldwin City had grown, as expected but not nearly as much as city and school officials believe it has.

The numbers show a 14.8 percent increase in Baldwin's population from 1990 to 2000, with 439 new residents. The city's population in 1990 was 2,961 and it "officially" is an even 3,400 in 2000.

Supt. James White and City Administrator Larry Paine think there may have been quite a few "noses" missed in the 2000 count.

"I think that's certainly possible," said White, who has been superintendent of the Baldwin schools for two years. "I would have thought we'd be a little higher."

Paine, who has been in Baldwin for about three years, thinks the 2000 figure is at least 150 short, based on information from a Douglas County Economic Development report.

"I think it's not quite what my expectations were, given data I already had," said Paine. "I think it's short, probably by about 150."

Paine also points out that the numbers are important to the city, especially in how they determine revenue.

"It's a big point of interest," he said of the census numbers. "They're particularly important for shared distribution of state revenues, for example sales tax dollars."

Paine isn't sure what it will mean in dollars and cents to the city, but he knows it won't stack up favorably with northern neighbors Lawrence and Eudora, which saw increases in population of 22.1 percent and 43 percent, respectively.

"Compared to them, we're going to be on the short end of the revenue stick," he said.

And, there's not much that can be done.

"We have to go through some processes to challenge the numbers and that's harder than pulling hen's teeth," said Paine, adding he isn't sure if it's worth the fight. "I'll have to take a look at that. The frustrating part is in a small town, how do you get the data to take on the U.S. Census Bureau?"

He also has his own ideas about where the Census Bureau dropped the ball and knows how the city can determine the number of residents.

"For all intents and purposes, we don't have the Baker students counted in," said Paine. "We gauge population by how much waste water goes through the plant and the capacity is 4,200. We're just short of that."

Using other statistics, such as the number of utility customers the city has, Paine estimates Baldwin's population between 3,580 and 3,600. And, those figures are headed up, both White and Paine agree.

The city is embarking on a $3 million-plus upgrade to the waste water treatment plant. The school district is eyeing options on easing classroom overcrowding which is only going to get worse.

"We are growing. You just look around and see all the new houses being built and you figure that out pretty quickly," said White. "We're just scratching the surface. It's going to explode and we'll have a large increase in the next few years.

"We're on the short end of the census and I think we're going to see the boom Gardner and DeSoto have seen," he said. "They don't know where to put all the kids. I think we'll see increases in a year that that (this year's census) shows for 10 years."

The DeSoto numbers show how that can happen. The Johnson County town showed a 99 percent increase in the last 10 years. Census numbers showed DeSoto with a population of 2,291 in 1990 and that's skyrocketed to 4,561 in 2000. DeSoto built a new high school this year and now has two Class 4A schools.

White doesn't expect anything like that, but the school board is faced with the prospect of adding a new building and making additions to others. That will likely mean a bond issue presented to voters in the fall.

"The ideal enrollment is 350 for the elementary school and we're at 450," said White. "We're there. I think that's the way the board is feeling. I think we will see the board come to a decision.

"I really believe we'll begin to formulate a decision in April and act on a decision in May," he said. "That would be my best guess."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.