February 19, 2014 | Vol. 26 Edition 7

Population estimates lower than last year – again

Lower number of residents reflects in school district student enrollment

The Valdez City Council will likely adopt the state’s population estimate that proclaims that Valdez is the fulltime home to 4,101 people.

In a report to council from the city’s Dept. of Economic Development, its executive director, Lisa Von Bargen, recommended that council adopt the state estimate that counts 43 less residents than the 2014 estimate.

“Valdez has the option to challenge,” Von Bargen said in the report but did not recommend it saying “but it is Administration’s recommendation that we do not based on the number we calculated this year, compared to last year, from our local population count conducted with the energy assistance program.”

At the end of 2012, city administration tallied 3,438 residents tallied by number of household members reported by applicants for the citywide energy assistance program. This year it counted only 3,322 residents, 116 less people.

“The state only shows a decline of 43,” Von Bargen’s report says. “Comparatively, their number is better.”

The number of residents counted by city administration using reported numbers from the energy assistance program is incomplete, as residents residing in rental property that include all utilities in monthly rent payments are not eligible for the yearly subsidy. While the program is open to all Valdez residents that have a permanent address and either an electric bill or residential fuel delivery account, not all eligible households apply for the subsidy.

Before the 2010 federal census released its population count for Valdez, city administration routinely challenged state population estimates, which typically upped the city’s numbers. In 2012, the US census certified the population of Valdez to be 3,976 people. Valdez argued its population was actually 4,353 people. The city’s higher count included workers housed in temporary quarters such as the Valdez Man Camp, on tugs based out of Port Valdez, some fish processing plants and others that work fulltime in Valdez and as such, use fulltime services provided by the city and significantly impact its infrastructure.

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.

The population estimate imposes a statutory tax limit of $41,044,434 for the city’s operating budget.

The formula used by state law in the past has pushed Valdez to accumulate bond debt, as excess tax revenues beyond the cap set by the population count cannot be included in the city’s general budget; but excess can be spent to pay off municipal debt.

In 2011 the state’s Dept. of Commerce estimated the Valdez population to be 3,992 people, according to past city documents. This contrasts greatly with the city’s 2009 estimate of 4,498 people.

The dwindling population numbers are also reflected in the student body population count used by Valdez City Schools and the state to fund education. In November of 2013, Valdez City Schools reported an enrollment of 610.20 students, which is seven students less than were counted in late September of 2013 and almost 21 less student enrolled than the district had projected before the school year began. Midway through the school population count in October of 2012, Valdez City Schools averaged a district-wide enrollment of 635 students, 30 short of its estimate used to figure the budget before that school year started.

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