ST. CLAIRSVILLE - While the state of Ohio's population growth has been slower than that of the rest of the nation, the slight population growth in Belmont County is being touted as a good sign.
Growth is certainly better than loss when it comes to the headcount performed by the U.S. Census Bureau every 10 years, according to local officials.
This past week, official figures from the 2010 Census were released, revealing a growth in population for Belmont County over the past 10 years by 174 residents.
In fact, Belmont County has now surpassed Jefferson County in population. According to the 2010 Census figures, Jefferson County lost 2,081 people over the past decade, dipping below the 70,000 mark with a county population of 69,709. Harrison County grew ever so slightly by a total of eight people, bringing its population to 15,864. Monroe County lost 438 residents with a headcount in 2010 of 14,642.
Belmont County, like many of the area counties in Eastern Ohio, has seen a population decline in past Census counts. Local officials took an effort to make sure that every person was counted during the 2010 Census last year, but few expected that Belmont County would actually see a gain in population.
"It's certainly good news," said Belmont County Commissioner Ginny Favede. "There was not a massive exodus from Belmont County as people had predicted."
While many communities in Belmont County lost residents, the most significant totals were seen in communities that needed to turn in solid figures. The county's two largest municipalities - Martins Ferry and St. Clairsville - needed to have at least 5,000 people living within their boarders in order to maintain their status as cities, and they both did.
Martins Ferry lost 311 people, but still came in with a population of 6,915. Ten years ago, St. Clairsville barely escaped a demotion to village status following the 2000 Census, when its population declined to 5,054. Since then, the city has grown to 5,184. Officials credited St. Clairsville's needed gain to annexation and development of the Ashburn-Green housing complex to the southeast of the public school campus, as well as a thorough count of residents last year.
Bellaire lost its city status following the 1990 Census, dipping below the 5,000 mark. Bellaire had a population of 4,892 in 2000 and shrunk to 4,278 since then, according to 2010 Census figures.
The numbers are crucial because they are connected to funding formulas, local officials stressed.
"We demand our equal share of funding," said Favede. "It also helps promote economic development. We're not a shrinking county. People chose to be here, and that's important when marketing the county to new businesses."
In Belmont County, the villages of Barnesville, Belmont, Bethesda, Bridgeport, Brookside, Flushing, Holloway, Powhatan Point and Yorkville all saw slight to moderate population declines, according to the most recent Census figures. Morristown gained four residents and Shadyside gained 110, the 2010 Census figures showed.
The Census figures are not only used for funding formulas for grants and other allocations, they are also needed to redraw district lines for Congressional territories and are used for other federal, state and regional redistrictings of political jurisdictions that occur every 10 years. The population of the state of Ohio grew to more than 11.5 million, but its rate of growth over the past decade was slower than the rest of the nation. As a result, Ohio will lose two of its 18 Congressional seats when redistricting takes place in the coming months.
A wealth of information from the 2010 Census, as well as previous Census data, is available to the public online at www.census.gov.
Ayres can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.