Nelsonville Loses City Status, But Census Data Challenge Likely | News
According to a proclamation by Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the town of Nelsonville will become a village following a population decline indicated by the 2020 census.
The change will take effect 30 days from the date of the proclamation by the Secretary of State, September 21. The City of Nelsonville received the proclamation in the mail on September 24.
Census data shows Nelsonville’s population dropped 14.5% from 5,392 in 2010 to 4,612 in 2020. Only localities with more than 5,000 residents are considered cities by the state of l ‘Ohio.
Nelsonville City Auditor Taylor Sappington told The Messenger that the Nelsonville city government doubted the accuracy of the census count and intended to challenge the data.
Sappington highlighted national issues by counting students, the elderly and populations with high rates of poverty. He said all of this could have impacted Nelsonville’s census count, especially given the absence of many Hocking College students from the community due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With the data we have here – with things like income taxes, other tax payments and utility bills, we know the population hasn’t been close to what the census says” , Sappington said. “We are happy to challenge it, we are convinced that it is wrong, and even if it is not, we will continue to work to make it a better city.”
Nelsonville City Manager Scott Frank echoed the call to dispute the data.
“We will definitely challenge it and, you know, hopefully we can rectify the situation,” Frank said.
County Commissioner Chris Chmiel also expressed doubts about the count and said he was open to a challenge.
“I think we need to look at the data a bit more closely and see if we agree with its accuracy,” Chmiel said. “With the absence of students, I think it’s a big, big challenge for the census to collect accurate data. Now they tried, and we tried to work with that. But, you know, I don’t know if there’s ever been a census during a pandemic before.
Considering Nelsonville is a chartered government — meaning the city determines its own governance structure — Sappington said he wouldn’t expect much impact on the community if the status change takes effect, on the basis of the legal advice he has received.
“The feeling from city hall is that the city charter would lead on a lot of these issues. In Ohio, it allows for municipal autonomy and sovereignty to a fairly high degree,” Sappington said. charter protects most of the services we provide and the funding mechanisms we use to provide those services.Obviously, if we find out otherwise, we’ll start making those changes, but there’s no indication yet that we have the wrong impression.
Sappington, however, expressed concern about the uncertainty that a change in status would introduce. One example being that the change could impact which grants Nelsonville is eligible for. Questioning the census data, according to Sappington, would hopefully avoid this and any other uncertainty.
Nelsonville’s situation is not entirely unprecedented. According to The Columbus Dispatch, Waverly was downgraded to a village following the 2010 census. Waverly Mayor Greg Kempton said Waverly, which continues to be called the City of Waverly, is still governed by its charter. .
Sappington, however, pointed out that no comparison is one-to-one.
“Our situation is a bit special,” he said. “Really, there’s not been a case in the last 20 years that’s exactly like this enumeration… We’re going to kind of set a precedent on how to do this.”
Despite his openness to challenging the census data, Chmiel said some level of population decline in Nelsonville would not be surprising to him given his experience repurposing derelict properties in Nelsonville with the Athens County Land Bank, in addition to broader trends in the County and Region.
“If you look at the trends across the state — you know, in our area … it would appear that the population decline is sort of consistent with that,” Chmiel said.
According to census data, six of Athens County’s eight villages also experienced declines in population starting in 2010, with declines ranging from 7.2 to 16.8 percent. Similarly, twelve of the fourteen cantons have seen their population decline. The steepest declines occurred in the villages of Trimble and Jacksonville, and in the townships of Trimble and York.
The county’s only population growth occurred in the villages of Amesville and Albany; townships of Ames and Lee; and the city of Athens. These gains were largely modest. The city of Athens, for example, only gained 17 people in the 2010 census.
In total, the population of Athens County fell by 3.4%.
This matches regional trends. Every county in southeastern Ohio saw its population decline, from 1.8% in Perry County to 8.3% in Morgan County.
According to census data, Ohio’s population growth has been concentrated primarily in the southwestern, central, and northeastern regions of the state.