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News / Business / Clark County Business

Clark County Council rejects state’s population estimates, use figures from Building Industry Association of Clark County

Councilors project population will reach 718,154 by 2045

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 3, 2023, 6:52pm

Following a lot of discussion, and a little confusion, the Clark County Council on Tuesday approved new population projections to be used to update the county’s growth management plan.

According to the county council, Clark County’s population will reach 718,154 by 2045, an estimate using a methodology favored by the Building Industry Association of Clark County that resulted in a population estimate higher than recommended by cities.

Tuesday’s meeting was a continuation of an April 18 public hearing on the population numbers. The council also had a special meeting with the state Office of Financial Management on Monday to review the methodology used in creating the population estimates.

The OFM provided three possible estimates for the county’s growth by 2045: 791,809 on the high end, 698,416 as a midrange guess and 576,151 on the low end.

According to state law, the middle range represents the most likely estimate of a county’s population, but the decision on which estimate to accept is up to the Clark County Council. The county’s population was 520,900 in 2022, according to a county report.

Quite a few people spoke up at the April council meeting, including several elected officials. Among them was Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, who said the state forecasts have “proven their local and statewide track record as being very accurate for more than 20 years.”

“The mayors of seven major cities in the county are recommending the median forecast,” McEnerny-Ogle said. “OFM’s most likely forecast would accommodate around another 175,000 more people in the county than we had last year.”

Camas Mayor Steve Hogan was also at the April meeting to voice his city’s support for the middle population estimate.

“There are costs if you pick the high or if you pick the low; those are going to cause different problems for the cities. The middle gives us the opportunity to be in the right range on how we plan for our growth and we can adapt on the fly,” Hogan told the council.

In addition to Vancouver and Camas, officials from Ridgefield, Battle Ground, La Center, Woodland and Washougal also spoke in favor of the middle forecast. Cities within Clark County use the population forecasts approved by the county council to update their individual growth management plan, in addition to using them to plan for future services and programs.

Builders weigh in

But not everyone favored any of the state agency’s forecasts. Noelle Lovern from the Building Industry Association of Clark County said previous forecasts from the Office of Financial Management have missed the mark.

“Based on historic discrepancies with OFM’s projections and supporting data, we recommend adopting an annual average growth rate of no less than 1.4 percent,” Lovern told the council.

Mike Mohrman, senior forecast analyst for the OFM, said during the council’s Monday meeting with him that while none of the forecasts will be exact, the midrange forecast is typically very close. For example, when projecting the county’s 2020 population, the 2002 and 2007 midrange forecasts were off by less than 2 percent, the 2012 forecast was under by 5 percent and the 2017 forecast was just 0.8 percent under.

Mohrman said the forecasts are created using various components such as births, deaths, natural increase and net migration. He said unexpected external developments can cause a forecast to be inaccurate.

“People have changed, and our office and data have changed. In 2012, we were coming out of the Great Recession. Circumstances are unique, but our methods have been pretty good,” Mohrman told the council.

Rather than use any of the estimates provided by the state, the council chose to use the 1.4 percent annual growth rate forecast recommended by the Building Industry Association. This model put the county’s 2045 population at 718,154.

“They (the OFM) are doing their very best with what they have, but it’s still a guess,” Councilor Glen Yung said. “I think it is critical that we get this right.”

Yung said because it is so close to Portland, migration into Clark County is different than what other counties are experiencing.

Council Chair Karen Bowerman said not being able to see how the state forecasts were created made her less comfortable with using them.

“Where did OFM’s numbers come from? As we always say, show your work. Show me the spreadsheet that got to that final number,” Bowerman said.

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Bowerman, Yung and Councilor Sue Marshall voted in favor of using the 1.4 percent annual growth rate. Councilors Gary Medvigy and Michelle Belkot initially voted against the motion — Medvigy wanted a higher number and Belkot did not explain why — but a short time later voted for the resolution, making it a unanimous vote.

To watch any of the hearings or meetings, go to https://clark.wa.gov/councilors/clark-county-council-meetings.