No Consensus on Census

By Beacon Staff

Great Falls leaders recently declared that its city is growing, not shrinking. Yipee! They were irked in 2003 when the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that it had lost population. When the same was reported in 2006, they took matters into their own hands and conducted their own study. By measuring new residential home and razing permits, City Planning Director Ben Rangel said the town has actually grown 3.3 percent since 2000. Cheering ensued. It may not last.

In Kalispell, where growth is rapid, a good portion of the population doesn’t appreciate all the new development – just read the response to an article in the Beacon about the Flathead’s future. One poster wrote bluntly, “Tell a developer where to go!”

So growth, or lack of it, are each no-winners. If a city adds homes and people at a swift clip, the character of it will certainly change. If it doesn’t, the perception is that it’s dying. Either way, residents are fearful, or worse.

In Great Falls, the Census numbers mattered enough for city employees to use staff time to investigate. City officials then sent a letter to the U.S. Census Bureau challenging its results, which will reportedly be accepted. At least one Great Falls resident questioned the city planning department’s methodology, claiming that the abandoned houses on the city’s north side weren’t factored into the new results.

But for now, anyway, Great Falls gets to claim it’s growing – like many of the larger cities in Montana. Next time the Census is updated, when it shows Kalispell is growing, maybe those people against all the new development here can urge our city officials to discredit the numbers. Since reports of growth apparently begets more of it.