Determining just how many people lived in Carroll County on April 1 depends on who you talk to.

The county's Planning Office, which monitors building permits, occupancy records and utility hookups, counted 127,559.

The U.S. census, which counted the people who lived here on April1, said that number should have been more like 123,372, a differenceof 4,187.

While 4,187 people can make a difference when it comes to federal and state aid, the discrepancy amounts to little more than3 percent.

And that's a discrepancy the county says it can live with.

"We know that we're growing," said Micki Smith, director of public information and one of the leaders of the county's census efforts. "I've got to say that we're not disappointed with the final figures, and we're not elated."

Not elated because the Commerce Department -- which conducts the census -- couldn't find as many people as the county did.

Not disappointed, however, because the final censusnumbers released Jan. 23 still show Carroll to have one of the highest growth rates in the Baltimore region.

The county picked up almost 27,000 new residents, enough to swell Carroll's population by 28 percent over 1980's 96,356. At that rate, the county -- now Maryland'sninth-largest in population -- was the metropolitan region's second-fastest growing county, and the seventh-fastest growing in the state.

Howard, whose population jumped 58 percent to 187,328, is the fastest growing county in the metropolitan region.

The other three counties in the region -- Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford -- grew between 6 percent and 25 percent. Baltimore City, one of only three jurisdictions in the state to lose population, was down 6.5 percent.

County planning officials, while insisting that their records are more accurate, say the effort to balance the count would not be worth the time and cost.

A 3 percent discrepancy, says county planner Greg Horner, is about as close as estimates can get.

And fighting thecensus numbers in court would probably cost more than the county stands to gain with the additional people.

Also, he and other county officials said, the "undercount" here doesn't come close to creating the problems an undercount in Baltimore or Washington causes.

Unlike Baltimore, Carroll will not lose any legislators in the General Assembly or Congress.

The Baltimore Regional Council of Governments said the county could gain representation because some districts thatstraddle the county line -- along Howard, Baltimore and Frederick counties -- could be redrawn so a greater percentage of their residentsare from Carroll.

Legislative districts in Maryland now contain anywhere from 85,000 to 94,000 people.

Though county officials are content to keep the final census figures intact, some municipal officials aren't happy with the final returns.

Hampstead Town Manager John A. Riley, who has been battling with the county's Planning Officefor years over what he calls its undercount of his town's population, was seething at the census count.

"There's no way this could be accurate," Riley said, a copy of the census results in hand. "I don'tknow how this could be right."

The census showed Hampstead with 2,608 residents, more than double 1980's 1,293.

Riley said his town's population was closer to 2,700. While the difference may not seem that great, to Riley every person counts.

Last year, in a dispute with the county Planning Office, Riley challenged the estimated population in an effort to secure more money under the Town/County Agreement, which uses population and other factors to determine how much taxmoney is returned by the county to the towns

Riley doesn't want to go through the same thing this year.

In Sykesville, Mayor Lloyd R. Helt Jr. is even more upset with the census figures.

"The town was really hit," he said. "It's just one more hit in an already toughseason."

What the census shows is a town population of 2,303, an increase of 35 percent over 1980's figure of 1,712. Helt's calculations, however, show that the town should have close to 2,600 people.

The lower count may increase taxes, Helt said. He also said federal and state aid based on a town's population would probably drop.

"The implications are fairly serious, but there's not much we can do right now," he said. "We've appealed about as far as we can."

Since the census, the Planning Office has released new estimates of the county's population. As of Jan. 8, the county's population was estimatedat 129,800, an increase of about 2 percent over the Planning Office's April estimate.

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