For years, Hanahan has seemed to be a hotspot of growth in South Carolina, with the Census Bureau estimating the city to have the fastest population gains in the Charleston metropolitan area.
Then the 2020 census results came out and local officials were stunned.
Instead of the estimated 28,280 inhabitants in Hanahan, the 2020 census found only 20,325. The difference – as if more than a quarter of the city’s residents had suddenly disappeared – will have an impact on funding and funding. Hanahan state budget for years to come.
Across South Carolina, the decennial census found that a number of towns and villages had much smaller or larger populations than previously thought. Charleston, for example, turned out to have 150,227 residents in 2020, not 139,714 as estimated by the Census Bureau.
The Census Bureau says that in cases where this occurs, the estimates were wrong, but Hanahan City Administrator Mike Cochran is among those who disagree.
“When we first saw the number a few weeks ago, I said there was no way it could be correct,” Cochran said. “We didn’t saw off half the city.”
Cochran looks at all new homes and apartments, building permits issued, the record number of children in the fall sports program and other statistics, and finds the 2020 census count to be far too low.
Located between North Charleston and Goose Creek, Hanahan’s population jumped 39% from 2000 to 2010. Over the next decade, it grew 12.9%, according to the 2020 census, which is faster than the total population of the state has increased but much less than the 50 percent growth that had been estimated.
One of the results is that Hanahan will get a considerably smaller share of state funding, which is based on population, starting this month. Another will be the constraints on the city’s fiscal and borrowing capacity, which are also linked to population growth.
“We’ve grown exponentially over the last decade, but the things we get that are census related haven’t been,” Cochran said.
Growing populations come with demands for more public services, and census counts are linked to a number of state and federal revenue streams. State aid is directly linked to population growth rates, the fastest growing cities receive more aid to pay the costs of growth.
Financially, the gap between the estimates and the 2020 census has narrowed both ways as cities received American Rescue Plan Act money based on estimated population, but will receive assistance from the state to subdivisions for the next decade based on the 2020 census.
Thus, Hanahan received much more ARPA money than the official census tally would have supported, but will receive less state aid than expected for years to come.
In the small town of Lincolnville, near Summerville, Mayor Charles Duberry said he first learned of the official census number from a Post and Courier reporter in October, and was shocked. The city had been estimated at around 2,500 inhabitants, but the official tally was 1,147, eight more than in 2010.
“We’ve had so many people moving in,” Duberry said, ticking off a list of new housing and apartment developments. “Since taking office in 2014, Lincolnville has grown tremendously.”
He said it is possible that many residents did not fill out their census forms, amid the pandemic.
The town of Edisto Beach has fewer full-time residents than Lincolnville, but turned out to be 157% more than the Census Bureau estimated; 1,033 instead of 402.
City administrator Iris Hill was pleasantly surprised. Not because the official number seems too high – the city has over 900 registered voters – but because the estimate had been so low.
“I wonder why we didn’t get ARPA money based on the 1,033,” she said.
The answer to this is that the ARPA money came out before the official census figures were available. The increase in the city’s population, 619 more inhabitants than in 2010, will translate into more state aid until 2030.
Hill said that Edisto Beach received $ 212,000 in ARPA funds, but would have received significantly more if the city’s estimated population had been targeted.
As in Edisto Beach, officials in Charleston weren’t surprised by the official census count because it was closer to what they expected than the estimates.
“Most of this estimate is based on the number of housing units,” said Phillip Overcash, the city’s senior planner. “Obviously we know a bit more about it, because we’re the ones who allow it.”
The city had estimated that it would have 156,000 inhabitants in 2020. The Census Bureau estimated 139,714 and the 2020 census found 150,227.
The official tally consolidates Charleston’s title as the largest city in South Carolina. Charleston’s population narrowly exceeded that of Columbia in 2016, by 213, and now the gap is 13,595.
“There is a lot of residential (growth) downtown, but West Ashley has also continued to develop, James Island has seen some infill, and Johns Island and Cainhoy are, of course, growing,” Christopher said. Morgan, director of the Charleston planning division.
Screaming from the rooftops
While a number of cities had significant differences between estimated and official population counts, none came close to the gap seen in Hanahan, with 7,955 fewer residents than expected.
Berkeley County Supervisor Johnny Cribb was previously the administrator of the city of Hanahan and said “there is no way in the world” that the 2020 census number is correct for this city.
“There are entire communities out there that didn’t exist in 2010, with thousands of people,” he said. “If I was there, I would scream from the rooftops.
Cochran isn’t screaming, but he’s gathering data and looking at options.
“I don’t know the exact method of appeal, but we’ll get to that,” Cochran said.
Unfortunately there is only limited and specific means to challenge the results of a census. Local governments can request a review of the 2020 census count, up to mid-2023, but reviews focus on municipal boundaries and whether there have been any geographic or processing errors.
For example, if a city can show that a subdivision or apartment complex was mistakenly counted as being in a different city or town, this could change the official count.
“From what we understand, there is no mechanism to say ‘Hey you lost half,’ said Scott Slatton of the South Carolina Municipal Association.
What cities can do is wait a few years and request a special census, in 2023 or later. A special census is sometimes taken when local authorities believe that there has been significant growth that has not been taken into account, between decennial censuses.
“It was not cheap”
A special census is not a challenge to the decennial census, but a new census limited to a local area. They are conducted by the Census Bureau at the expense of the local government, and Mount Pleasant did one in the mid-2000s.
The idea is that having a special census, reflecting a rapidly growing population, will trigger more funding and more than offset the cost.
In 2005, during Mount Pleasant’s fastest growing phase of population, the city spent about $ 750,000 on a special census and expected to recoup double state aid until 2010. Completed in 2006, it revealed that the city’s population had grown from 47,610. in 2000 to 59,104.
“We were pretty sure – it was a growing city – that we were going to get the money back. I think we got it back in two years, ”said city administrator Eric DeMoura, who was directly involved in the count.
“It wasn’t cheap and we had to bring in the Census Bureau,” he said. “I remember struggling to find enough workers.”
So, for Hanahan and other places that think they’ve been underestimated, a special census in 2023 or later would be the next option to consider.