Officials: Census loss ‘frightening’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 4, 2000

Census estimates released last month that show a significant drop in local population may be more than just numbers, say several community leaders.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Adams County lost 1,699 residents between 1990 and July 1999. Nearly a fourth of that population drop — 484 people — occurred in the last year.

Dr. Carl Davis, Natchez-Adams School District superintendent, said a recent study of live births in the area have him convinced that the estimates are on-target.

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&uot;It’s frightening what is happening here in Adams County and Natchez and the school district,&uot; Davis said.

Under a new school funding plan soon to be put into place, Davis said the school district will lose $300,000 for every 100 children who leave the area.

&uot;And we’ve been losing 100 children for the last four or five years,&uot; he said. &uot;If it continues, the services we offer will not continue.

&uot;It doesn’t look good,&uot; he said.

A large portion of the decrease was in Natchez, which lost 1,567 people over the nine-year period including 329 between 1998 and 1999.

At the same time, the overall state population grew by 193,144 people, which is equal to more than a 7 percent increase.

In fact, Natchez and Adams County were among only a handful of populations that decreased, including neighboring Franklin County.

Winnie Kaiser, of the Natchez-Adams Economic Development Authority, said when people leave, economic growth often follows.

Federal grants, welfare funding, community programs, workforce wages, even real estate values are tied to an area’s population, Kaiser said.

&uot;It’s a domino effect because it all intertwines,&uot; she said. &uot;It might be easier to say it’s a cycle.&uot;

Bob Barrett, chairman of the Adams County Election Commission, joins others in predicting that 2000 census numbers will cause congressional district lines to be adjusted. With that adjustment, Mississippi stands to lose a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

&uot;If you cut out one vote, you cut out one clout,&uot; he said.

Natchez alderwoman Sue Stedman also fears the loss of a seat, but she is not convinced that recent population estimates are trustworthy.

Stedman said estimates are often based on trends, and a high unemployment rate in the 1980s as a result of the oil industry bust may have skewed the projections.

Unemployment in Adams County hit a high of 16 percent in 1986 compared to last year’s average of 8 percent.

Figures for September show just more than 5 percent of the county’s population is without a job.

&uot;I’m looking at some of the figures we’ve been given like sales tax revenues and unemployment rates,&uot; she said.

&uot;I want to wait and see the real numbers when they come in,&uot; she said.

Jack Houghton, CEO pf Natchez Regional Medical Center, is also not overly concerned by the estimates.

When looking at areas in which to practice, physicians look at a primary service area and a secondary service area, Houghton said.

For Natchez-Adams County, a secondary service area would include communities reaching to Woodville and Sicily Island, he said.

&uot;You have to look at the bigger picture to realize the impact on the medical community,&uot; Houghton said.

Houghton is also optimistic that commercial and residential growth in the downtown area will draw people back into the area.

&uot;I think that’s going to bring more people in in the long run,&uot; he said.