Is Vail area population shrinking or rising?
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – With the only real measurable way to gauge whether people are leaving the valley, school enrollment, projected to be about the same as last year, some people still think there’s evidence that the local population is decreasing due to a lack of jobs.
The signs of the economic times are obvious at organizations like the Vail Valley Salvation Army, which has seen an unprecedented increase in the number of people asking for help in the last year.
The Salvation Army has spent more than $70,000 on food for its food pantry, when in the past they never had to spend money to buy food because donations were always enough, said director Tsu Wolin-Brown.
“We now have between 200 to 300 families that need food every month – it used to be 30 or 40 families,” Wolin-Brown said.
While the families seeking help are doing everything they can to hold on and remain in the valley, others might decide to leave.
Wolin-Brown said it’s hard to tell whether some of her clients have left because clients who stop seeking help from the Salvation Army may have found work and simply don’t need the help anymore, so they stop coming in.
“One girl told us who just got a job that she hopes she doesn’t have to come see us again,” Wolin-Brown said. “It will be interesting to see what happens with the head counts at the schools. I still think there could be a lot of people leaving.”
Tami Figueroa, a resident at the Edwards Trailer Park, said there are empty trailers everywhere because entire families are just picking up and leaving.
“I can’t even count, it’s so many,” Figueroa said.
Figueroa said many Mexican families have moved to Oklahoma because word spread quickly that some former Edwards residents found jobs there. She said it’s just like back in Mexico – when someone finds work in a specific place, others quickly follow to see if there’s enough work to go around.
“People that have been here for years, they all just picked up and left,” Figueroa said. “So many families – it’s just so hard”
Figueroa said she personally knows of about 12 families who have left, but she’s knows of many more through word of mouth.
There are also people moving in with their family or friends in order to save money. Figueroa said as many as five people live together in just one bedroom at many of the trailers in the park.
“I just feel so sorry for all of these people,” she said.
Numbers worth counting
Mike Gass, executive director of student services for the Eagle County School District, said the district’s enrollment is estimated at 6,185 for the 2010-11 school year, which is about the same as last year. The district does its official enrollment count on Oct. 1, so official numbers are not available until then.
The school enrollment count is just about the only way to tell whether people are moving to or from the valley until 2010 Census data is available.
The district reports a drop in the number of students requesting transfers to schools outside the district, down 30 percent compared to this time last year, Gass said.
There are about 22,000 active registered voters in Eagle County, which is less than last year’s total, but the number is misleading, said Teak Simonton, Eagle County Clerk and Recorder.
Active voters are always higher after a presidential election, but the number could drop off after the federal election this November as voters who don’t vote, and also don’t respond to a mailer from the clerk and recorder’s office, are then moved to inactive status.
Mailers that bounce back because they’re undeliverable also move a voter to an inactive status, Simonton said. There were 800 mailers that bounced back for that reason in the recent mail-in primary election, with ballots sent out to about 60 percent of all active voters because voters had to be affiliated with a party in order to vote in the primary.
“Of the 40 percent that weren’t mailed a ballot, who knows how many of them are still here,” Simonton said.
Motor vehicle records may be misleading, she said. While there are fewer registered vehicles this year than the same time last year, it might just mean folks have gotten rid of a car. Some people might own more than one car, too.
Business owners see some evidence of fewer people around, though. A West Vail hair salon owner said about 15 of her clients have moved out of the valley in just the last couple of months, while an Edwards veterinarian has seen a decline in business coming in from local construction workers.
“What I’ve noticed is all of those people that were construction workers – dry wallers, framers, roofers – those guys are no longer in town and it’s notable,” said Dr. Stephen Warren, of Steve’s Dog and Cat Repair. “I’ve talked to a lot of those guys over the last year who have been leaving town – there’s just no work.”
On the same note, however, Warren has noticed more business coming in from second-home owners.
Wastewater treatment and water consumption are also down in the town of Gypsum, said Town Manager Jeff Shroll. While less consumption might just suggest people are cutting back on watering their lawns during tougher economic times, less wastewater production might suggest population decreases, he said.
“Foreclosures are going to play a role – banks don’t particularly care to water the lawns,” Shroll said.
As a whole, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District’s regional wastewater system has treated about the same amount over the last two years, said Diane Johnson of the district.
The 2010 U.S. Census data, which will likely exclude most of the area’s illegal immigrant population, is not expected to come out for several months. Until then, locals will continue to speculate whether the valley is getting bigger or smaller.
– Reporter Sarah Mausolf contributed to this story.
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