The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Population numbers under fire by state

How many people actually live in Valdez questioned

 


How many people actually live in Valdez? How many people work here more than half the year but claim they live somewhere else? Should the city be allowed to count long-term but temporary workers as residents?

These questions and more are up on the table after the State of Alaska dealt a blow to the city’s population declaration passed by the Valdez City Council at a special meeting held April 25.

The city believes its population of permanent residents in 2012 is 4,353 people. The US Census in 2010 certified the population at 3,976 people.

On Monday, Lisa Von Bargen, the city’s director of economic development, told the Valdez City Council the state is disallowing 265 of the people the city counted as part of its population. The numbers questioned by the state are comprised of workers housed at the Valdez Man Camp and tug and vessel workers for Crowley’s oil spill response vessels.

“We’re not asking for the total number of people at the Man Camp,” Von Bargen said. Or the out-of-town Crowley workers from its oil spill response vessels.

The 265 people counted by the city as residents are comprised of a percentage of out-of-town workers that work or live in Valdez for a significant portion of the year. The city arrived at the figures using complex formulas the state allowed in the past when Valdez appealed its population estimate from the state.

The state is allowing over 150 workers at Peter Pan Seafoods to be counted as Valdez residents, but none from the neighboring fish processing plant, Silver Bay.

A small percentage of long-term but temporary workers in Valdez are counted because of their impact on the city’s infrastructure.

The state also disallowed other methods the city has used in past years to estimate its population or required more documentation than usual. Von Bargen said city staff was required to verify a large percentage of the people counted using data gathered during the city’s fuel assistance signup period last year.

“This is a big deal,” Von Bargen told the council when explaining why the city typically appeals the state’s Valdez population estimates.

Population determinations are used to calculate revenues – big money – Alaska shares with municipalities. It can also create havoc with municipal budgets, as state law limits the amount of tax dollars a municipality is allowed to spend on a per capita basis. This quirk in state law is pushing Valdez to accumulate debt. Excess tax revenues cannot be included in the city’s general budget, but excess can be spent to pay off municipal debt.

Valdez has routinely appealed its state population estimates in past years – often with great success. On its website, Valdez claims a population of 4,353 people, a number the city successfully upped before the

2010 census.

No appeal was allowed after the 2010 US Census population numbers were released. In 2012, Valdez is still bound by that count. The population numbers under appeal will be used to determine revenue sharing and budgetary issues for the city’s 2013 budget, according to Von Bargen.

The state’s Dept. of Commerce notified the city it estimated the 2011 Valdez population to be 3,992 people, according to a report Von Bargen made to the Valdez City Council.

“The population count determined by the state demographer was 16 people more than the 2010 Decennial Census,” the report said, “but was 506 people less than the last state-certified population determination of 4,498 completed by the City of Valdez in 2009.”

 

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