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Published: Saturday, 3/17/2001

Toledo's population falls almost 20,000 in 1990s

BY JOE MAHR
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledoans fled to the suburbs in the 1990s, but not as fast as they did in the 1970s and 1980s - and not as fast as the experts predicted.

The 2000 U.S. Census figures for Ohio, released yesterday, show that Toledo lost nearly 20,000 people in the 1990s, putting the city's population at 313,619. That's good news for a city that lost nearly 22,000 people in the 1980s and nearly 30,000 in the 1970s.

“I'm never happy when you lose any population,” Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said. “But it could have been a lot worse, if you look at what's happened in other cities.”

Toledo's loss translated to gains in other areas, like a 20 percent boost in Springfield Township, 35 percent spike in Perrysburg, and - the big winner - a 49 percent jump in Monclova Township, according to census data.

The increase doesn't surprise Gary Kuns, a longtime Monclova Township trustee.

“Monclova had the benefit of being a sleepy, undeveloped community for 150 years,” he said. “It was the only place in the perimeter of Lucas County left for expansion and development.”

The census figures show the biggest suburb-seekers were whites, with nearly one in seven white Toledo residents leaving the city in the last decade. That equates to 36,000 residents - enough to fill both the suburbs of Oregon and Maumee.

Filling part of the vacuum were an increasing number of blacks and Hispanics. Minorities now represent 30 percent of the city's population, compared to 23 percent in 1990.

But, while people moved around the region, it didn't gain many outsiders. Overall, the metropolitan region - defined by the census bureau as Lucas, Wood, and Fulton counties - gained less than 1 percent in population, to close the decade at 618,203.

That's not counting Bedford Township in southern Monroe County, Michigan, Toledo's fastest growing suburb. The Michigan census data hasn't been released, but population estimates suggest Toledo's northern suburbs could boost metro-Toledo growth to nearly 2 percent.

When the 16 counties in northwest Ohio are counted, the entire region ended the decade with 1,346,000 people - a 1.4 percent increase. That's well under the state's overall population growth of 4.7 percent.

Beyond the figures, the census information adds another chapter to the decades-long story of population flight from the nation's industrial urban cores - Toledo being no exception. City residents have long sought newer homes and what they perceived as better public schools and safer neighborhoods outside city limits.

It has meant booming subdivisions on land that, a few years ago, grew corn or soybeans. The land now houses people like David Goins, who moved his family of four in 1997 from West Toledo to a new 2,500-square-foot home in Perrysburg.

“I pay a little higher taxes, but it's worth every penny,” he said. “The teachers [in Perrysburg] seem dedicated.”

On the other end are people like Doug and Jackie Ankenbrandt, nine-year residents of Monclova Township. It now takes him five minutes to jockey out of their Albon Road driveway, and she has become a grass-roots organizer against many proposed developments.

“We're just all kind of overwhelmed out here, and we don't know where it's headed,” she said. “It's just so much, so fast.”

Toledo officials have been worried the last year.

They had spent much of the 1990s believing fewer people were leaving the city. The census bureau concurred in 1998 - even suggesting the city might gain some residents by 1999.

But last summer, the census bureau dropped a statistical bombshell: The population decline was getting worse. Census planners, using a variety of local statistics, estimated nearly twice as many people left Toledo in 1999 than 1998.

Worse yet, they suggested the city's true population was 307,946 - meaning a 7.5 percent drop in the 1990s. That would have made it the worst decade of suburban flight - not only bruising egos but also meaning a bigger drop in federal aid.

“We were quite surprised,” said Steve Herwat, the director of the Toledo and Lucas County plan commissions.

Then came yesterday's surprise showing the actual head count was nearly 5,700 people higher than the 1999 estimate, and the city lost only 5.8 percent of its people since 1990.

Still, city officials will try to boost the census number even further. This month they joined Los Angeles and a dozen other cities in a lawsuit demanding the census bureau use statistical surveys to boost census tallies, because they claim the head counts generally miss more city dwellers than suburban and rural residents.

And it means less money because federal aid is based, in part, on a city's population. Later surveys often reveal a bigger number of city residents, but they don't get counted.

A 1999 survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors of 34 cities - not including Toledo - showed each city lost an average of $1,200 in federal aid in the 1990s for each person missed during the 1990 census. Those same cities estimated they would lose nearly $2,300 a person, on average, for people missed in the 2000 census.

Toledo officials have no estimate of their own, but it hasn't stopped the mayor from continually complaining about the issue.

Mayor Finkbeiner has complained that the local census office was so mismanaged that he offered $50,000 in taxpayer money for the census bureau to do a recount. He's described the bureau's actions as a “joke” and, just yesterday, “deplorable.”

The local field office also endured an FBI raid of its office for payroll records for an investigation that remains ongoing, as well as saw its top administrator, Richard Sweeney, either quit or be fired. The census bureau won't say which.

Despite the high drama surrounding the Toledo count, there was significance in the numbers for much of the metro region.

Waterville missed becoming a city by 172 people - despite estimates the village would easily surpass the 5,000 threshold to automatically become a city under Ohio law.

As a city, among other things, city employees would be allowed to unionize and the city would have to form a health district. But, to many residents, city status also meant the municipality would lose - if only symbolically - its small-town feel.

Mayor David Myerholtz predicted that no tears would be shed over the census figures: “I don't think anyone is going to be heartbroken.”

But there was plenty of growth north of Waterville, in Lucas County's western townships. Monclova Township had the biggest percentage gain of any place in metro Toledo. It added 2,200 people to finish with 6,767, which in turn has increasingly spurred a debate over the level of growth.

Trustee Kuns said the growth is inevitable and has been managed well, but Mrs. Ankenbrandt still believes the growth can be better managed.

“You go down Monclova Road and it used to be all farmland,” she said. “Now it's condominiums, villas - really large homes on small lots. There's not much green space.”

It's a debate that has been waged across the western suburbs, particularly in Sylvania Township, Toledo's most populated suburb.

Sylvania Township recorded the biggest gain in numbers, adding nearly 4,300 to boost its population nearly 11 percent, to 44,253. The township just beat out the 4,100-person gain in Springfield Township, which grew to 24,123 residents in 2000.

Still, the townships' gains weren't enough to offset the losses in Toledo, and Lucas County ended up losing 7,300 people, or 1.6 percent of its population, since 1990.

To see where many went, Lucas County residents can look across the Maumee River.

Perrysburg added nearly 4,400 people, thanks to heavy annexation of new subdivisions, to finish the decade at 16,945. That amounted to a 35 percent boost, a surprise to even people who contributed to the increase, like Mr. Goins. “What surprises me is how rapid it has grown,” he said. “In just the three years we've been here, it's just taken off.”

The city has experienced significant changes since 1990. Its fire department has evolved from one staffed mostly by volunteers to one mostly staffed by paid professionals. And the city is building a high school to accommodate the growing number of district pupils.

While the growth unnerves some longtime city residents, Mayor Jody Holbrook regards it as a positive. Property and income taxes from owners of the new, pricier homes have more than offset the increased cost of city services as well as the annual pay raises of city workers, he said.

“I'd rather have growth to offset the labor costs than taxes,” he said.

Perrysburg's boost, however, was not enough to overtake another Toledo suburb, Oregon, which gained 5.6 percent to end the decade with a population of 19,355. Neither could Perrysburg overtake Sylvania, which grew 7.9 percent to end the decade with a population of 18,670.

But Perrysburg did surpass Maumee, where the population dropped 2 percent to 15,237.

Mr. Herwat said he suspects the population drop reflects Maumee's lack of room for new housing, and it fell victim to a national trend of smaller families - meaning fewer people, on average, occupy the city's homes.

Still, regardless of which direction a locale's population moved, the 2000 census gives the residents of each place an opportunity to see how their hometown has changed.

Councilwoman Brenda Mackey insisted village officials didn't kick anybody out or impregnate anyone to match the 1990 tally. It was just the way it worked out, and she's not surprised. “We tend to be a very stable community,” she said.

Blade staff writers Tom Henry and Janet Romaker contributed to this report.



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