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Error in Report - January 30

The January media advisory from the Weldon Cooper Center on population trends in Virginia listed data on Staunton that is incorrect in part, and completely misleading.

The error in the report lies in the placement of Western State Hospital. Michael Spar, author of the Weldon Cooper report, confirms that his data incorrectly placed Western State Hospital in Augusta County, not in Staunton. Since institutional populations are counted as part of the census, this mistake had the effect of reducing Staunton’s population by about 250. If you adjust the Center’s figures for this error, the city’s population would have declined only about 670 persons since the 2000 census.

However, that figure, while technically accurate, is extremely misleading. The problem is, again, institutional populations. In 2000, when the census was formally taken, it reported 764 persons in a state prison in Staunton (the Staunton Correctional Center). That prison closed in 2003 and its property is now being converted to residential and commercial uses. These prisoners, for purposes of the Census, were counted as Staunton residents – thus inflating the city’s population by that amount. However, most people don’t think of prisoners as real community residents, certainly not as indicators of local economic health or attractiveness.

Further, the 2000 Census also included 196 prisoners who were in the old Augusta County Jail in Staunton. That facility too was closed. These prisoners were moved to the Middle River Regional Jail in 2006 where they are now counted as Augusta County residents in the Weldon Cooper Center report.

These three listed factors serve to inflate Staunton’s 2000 population and decrease its 2007 population, thus implying a significant decline in the city’s residents over the past 7 years. However, if you adjust for these three factors, Staunton’s actual residents – excluding prisoners – may be considered to have grown by about 300 over that period – a growth rate of 1.3 percent.

The same kinds of factors seem to prompt some number crunchers to bemoan Staunton’s slow decline in population over recent decades. It should be noted that, from the 1950s into the 1970s, the patient population of Western State Hospital topped 3,000… And those patients were counted as Staunton residents. With the general move toward de-institutionalization, the patient population at Western State has declined to about 250. That drop far exceeds the slight declines in Staunton’s population over the same period.

The bottom line is that the City of Staunton is not shrinking. It is growing. Our most recent (September, 2007) figures show that 582 residential units have been completed in the past few years, and 201 now under construction will be complete within the next 12 months. There are another 1,600 new units in the pipeline that will be completed sometime after the next 12 months. Clearly Staunton’s growth is certain to accelerate dramatically in the years ahead.

Doug Cochran

City of Staunton

Customer Relations

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