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Carroll County's low population growth rate may be 'new normal'

Carroll County's population growth rate continues to fall, with recent data showing the percentage is the lowest it's been in more than 80 years.

The population growth rate fell to 2 percent for the period of 2011 through 2015, down from 10.8 percent for 2000 through 2010, according to data presented to the Carroll County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday by the Planning Department. The highest marked growth came during the 1970 through 1980 period, when the population growth rate hit 39.6 percent.

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The county Planning Department briefed commissioners on where Carroll currently stands in regard to population and demographics, and where it appears to be headed. And while the county seems to be increasing slightly in population, the growth rate itself is "definitely down," according to Scott Graf, comprehensive planner for the county.

"People, for the most part, are going to be aging in place," Graf said.

The percentage of the population that is 65 and older is expected to double from 13 percent in 2010 to 26 percent in 2040.

However, even retirees are leaving, he added, and heading to Pennsylvania, Delaware, Florida and the Carolinas because of the tax situation in Maryland.

Millennials aren't coming in and replacing them, he said. Many in that age group are having children later, which affects school system enrollment, and many don't want a home on a quarter-acre of land, Graf said.

This information is key as the county starts to look at plans through the long-term advisory board, said Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5.

Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, warned of trying to grow too much, too fast. While growth enhances the economy, many in Carroll look at slowed growth as a good thing, Rothschild said.

"I just want the board to be cautious," he said.

Howard said 2 percent growth won't likely sustain what the county is trying to do. But, he agreed they need to find the best way for the county to grow and to do what makes sense for Carroll.

"The solutions for other places are not the solutions for Carroll," Howard said.

But it is important to look at what other areas are doing, he said, to know what Carroll wants, and doesn't want, to try to do.

Population growth rates are down for most surrounding areas as well.

Baltimore County went from a 6.7 percent growth rate in 2000 through 2010, to a 2.7 percent growth rate in 2011 through 2015. In the same time period, Howard County went from 15.8 percent to 8.4 percent; Harford went from 12 percent to 2.9 percent; and Anne Arundel County went from 9.8 percent to 4.1 percent.

Baltimore City actually saw growth, going from a 4.6 percent population decrease from 2000 through 2010 to 2 percent population growth from 2011 through 2015.

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The areas that are growing in Carroll County, Graf said, are in targeted growth areas such as Westminster, the Freedom Area in the southern portion of the county and the county's municipalities.

"The map shows that we are growing where we want to grow," he added.

But the small growth that is occurring isn't meeting previous projections, and the county needs to back off projected numbers, Graf said. At this point, he added, the decreasing growth rate has been going on for long enough that it's a trend.

"We're not getting back to the pace of growth that we once were at," Graf said.

The county may be looking at a "new normal," he added.

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