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Atmore on losing end of 2000 census

By By Kerry Whipple-Bean
Atmore lost 146 people over the past five years, according to U.S. Census estimates.
But a population expert said local residents shouldn't read too much into the numbers.
"You have to be really careful," said Annette Waters, manager of the State Data Center at the University of Alabama. "There's no one out there surveying. A few people one way or the other doesn't make a big difference."
The Census Bureau releases population estimates every year, although the actual census is taken every 10 years.
According to the numbers released last month, Atmore's population went down from 7,676 at the time of the official Census in 2000 to an estimated 7,530 a year ago.
Brewton, meanwhile, lost 125 people – moving from 5,498 to 5,372 – and East Brewton lost about 72 people, moving from 2,496 to 2,424. Tiny Jay, Fla., actually gained residents, according to estimates, growing from 579 people to 665.
One thing that drives the estimates, Watters said, is what happened between the 1990 and 2000 census reports. If towns in Escambia County were already on a trend of losing population, that factors in to the new estimates.
Census estimates also take into account building permits and assumes a certain percentage of houses would be demolished.
Many small rural communities across Alabama continued to show a decline in population, according to Census estimates, while many small communities that are suburbs continued to grow.
"It's not an even story in the state for small rural communities," Watters said. "The character of a town is as important as its size. If your town is a bedroom community of a larger city, you're more likely growing."
Escambia County Administrator Tony Sanks said the estimates likely won't have an impact on cities' or counties' ability to attract federal or state funding.
"The decennial census is the recognized population count for official purposes," he said. "While population can impact some federal or state funding, it does not have a measurable impact at the county level. Our revenues aren't directly tied to the population."
Sanks did note, though, that fewer residents would likely correlate to fewer people purchasing goods and services and paying taxes.
But Watters noted that census estimates for cities only include residents inside city limits, so they don't take into account growth in unincorporated areas of the county.
And Watters said census numbers are not necessarily tied to economic growth.
"A city's population growth or decline is not the same thing as its destiny," she said. "Economic health and population growth are not synonymous. Population decline sometimes gives cities the opportunity to renew and reinvigorate. Population growth sometimes gives cities big headaches. In the 21st century, effective governmental leaders realize that prosperity is the goal, not just growth. Working together with neighboring cities and towns is the key to prosperity. Through cooperation, everybody can benefit, no matter who has the most new people."