A look at local population trends - BlueStone Press
October 21, 2019
News Department

A look at local population trends

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Population estimates and Rondout Valley School District enrollment numbers from the past decade show the populations of Marbletown, Rosendale and Rochester slowly decreasing while the number of students attending Rondout schools has dropped at a faster rate.

The 2010 census was the last time an accurate count of the population was released. Since then, estimates from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, most recently from 2018, show the populations of the three towns each decreasing by about 100 to 300 people. This is an average decrease of about 3 percent. These are only estimates, however. The actual number is hard to calculate without the resources of a national census. In the past decade, enrollment in Rondout schools has gone from about 2,400 students to about 1,900. That’s an over 20 percent decrease. This is a long-term trend, too. Rondout’s student population is two-thirds the size it was in 1999.

Mike Baden, Rochester town supervisor, said that he thinks Rondout’s decreased enrollment is because of a change in the types of people that are moving into the area.

“The demographics of the of the population that is moving in [is] less families; it's more, I think, of the 40- and 50-year-old generation, or people who are professional couples,” Baden said. “And I think you’re finding more and more of that.”

Rosendale’s town supervisor, Jeanne Walsh, said, “I believe there are a number of factors that contribute to the decline in school-age children in our area. It is obvious that people are having fewer children. My parents and grandparents raised larger families than most people are today. We also have more people purchasing houses in our area as second homes, which means their children would not be enrolled in our schools.

“The Rondout Valley school board recognized this decline several years ago when they made the decision to close the Rosendale Elementary School. Luckily, we were able to take over the Rosendale school and convert it into the Rondout Municipal Center as a town hall for both Rosendale and Marbletown, providing many important services to our residents,” Walsh said.

The Marbletown town supervisor, Rich Parete, said he would be concerned if the enrollment at Rondout continues to drop. He cited other schools with lower populations and said it was hard to have lots of extracurriculars without enough students.

“We certainly don't want our student population dropping that low,” Parete said, “because then you're not going to find people that want to live in your community, because people want their kids to go to schools where they can have a lot of choice in what they do.”

So far, though, Rondout’s superintendent of schools, Joseph Morgan, said the only effect from the lower student population has been decreasing the size of staff after retirements.

“This past year, this budget, there were some positions that we didn't fill,” Morgan said. “We had some retirements, and there were some positions we didn't fill because of class numbers.”

Morgan said it’s not guaranteed that Rondout’s population will continue to decrease like it has over the past two decades. The data from the past five years show much steadier numbers, with enrollment actually increasing one year. This could mean Rondout’s student population is leveling off.

“We're currently looking at what the projections would be, so I don't have a firm answer for you as far as the future is right now,” Morgan said. “It’s more of an art than a science.”

Baden said that he also thinks his town’s population is more level than the estimate makes it seem. He said the town has seen increasing numbers of mortgages taken out, which does not suggest a decrease in population to him.

“I’m actually a little surprised at that [number],” Baden said. “One hundred is not a big outbound, but I’m curious how accurate that is … I think it probably would have remained stable.”

Baden said he had a role in conducting the 2010 census for this area, which gives him more reason to doubt the accuracy of the agency’s estimates. The rural nature of most of Ulster County makes getting an accurate census count a hard thing to do.

“In Ulster County in 2010, for the entire county, every census form was hand delivered; we were one of the few counties [to do that] because it was such a rural county,” Baden said. “Demographics really are kind of a guess until you actually physically go out on the ground and count, and that'll happen next year.”

Baden said a lot of work was put in to make the census very accurate. The yearly estimates don’t have the resources to count all rural residents, which means the numbers could be significant over- or under-estimates. For example, in 2009, an estimate put the population of Marbletown at 6,003, then the next year’s census found a population of 5,681. More than 300 people would have had to leave the town in one year for 2009’s number to be accurate.

Parete said he is concerned about Marbletown becoming unaffordable for young families. Data from the Ulster County Board of Realtors shows Marbletown consistently being the most expensive of the three towns – Marbletown, Rochester and Rosendale – in which to buy a home. One policy Parete hopes will help mitigate this is an accessory apartment law that was passed a few months ago.

“Because the housing costs are so expensive, we've allowed homeowners to have accessory apartments or second structures on their property that they are able to rent out,” Parete said. “It does bring diversity to our community, [and] it does allow people to live in our community that can’t afford homes right now, younger families or just people that just don't have the income to be able to afford a home here.”

Baden said population shifts in Rochester have led to the economy shifting more toward entertainment and tourism. Agricultural acreage in Rochester has remained consistent, and has possibly increased, Baden said, which contrasts other local areas.

“We're not losing agricultural acreage like other communities are. There's a lot of young couples coming in – I know of at least four or five that I could name that are doing farming. And they're doing small-scale farming,” Baden said. “It's an attraction that is bringing people to the area.”

Next year’s census will provide more accurate data on the direction our area is headed. Baden said he is waiting until he sees the official census numbers before he judges the accuracy of these trends.

“I’ll see what the 2020 census actually brings,” Baden said. “The real census numbers are much more accurate than the estimates.”

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