The US Census is reporting that San Juan County grew faster than any other county in the United States in the past year, an assertion that leaves local residents scratching their heads in confusion.
Figures released by the US Census on March 23 state that San Juan County grew by an astounding 7.5 percent between July 1, 2015 and July 1, 2016. That represents growth of 1,188 new residents, from 15,707 to 16,895.
The reported growth in San Juan County dwarfs the reported growth in the second fastest-growing county in the US, Kendall County, TX, which grew by an estimated 5.16 percent.
The problem is there is little or no evidence that nearly 1,200 people moved into the county in that time frame.
Between 2015 and 2016, enrollment in area schools dropped by 35 students.
Officials in Monticello and Blanding, the only two incorporated towns in the county, report modest growth, but nothing approaching the 7.5 percent reported by the census bureau.
“We anticipate that we will grow by several hundred residents between 2010 and the next official Census,” said Blanding City Manager Jeremy Redd.
There is little change even in Spanish Valley, which has experienced more growth than any other area in the county over the past two decades.
Customers and workers at the bustling Spanish Valley Vet Clinic state that the dramatic growth of nearly 1,200 new residents isn’t coming from the San Juan County portion of Spanish Valley.
One 30-year resident of the area said that the San Juan County side of Spanish Valley probably had between 12 and 20 new homes in the past year.
While the US Census conducts a physical count of every person on a ten-year basis, the bureau relies on estimates, algorithms and other data to estimate yearly changes.
Sometimes the Census estimates can be off by large margins, particularly in isolated areas.
One local official, who does not wish to be named, said, “The Census has historically been less than accurate, and that can cause problems since so much funding is tied to Census figures.”
Inaccurate or vague Census estimates can also cause additional problems. Escalante, in neighboring Garfield County, is a case in point.
The 1990 Census found 818 residents in the tiny town. Over the next ten years, the annual Census estimate points to dramatic growth in Escalante. The estimates state that the town had 1,100 resident in 1996 and grew to a high of more than 1,300 residents in 1999.
In 2000, when the official Census was taken to physically count actual people, the number of residents was 824. Over the ten-year period between the actual head counts, the population changed by just six residents.
However, during that time frame, the sleepy little town of Escalante found itself in the middle of controversy when it was swallowed up by the new Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
The change in population figures can mean many things, with some observers stating that the town lost 500 residents in a one-year period.
Others state that the actual changes over time were much less dramatic, as evidenced by the flat growth between the two actual Census counts.