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A look at population numbers in West Virginia

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In my story this week, Tom Bloom, the president of the Monongalia County Commission, mentioned that the southern counties in the state are trying to stifle the growth of the northern counties, rather than support them, citing the smaller counties’ opposition to enacting home rule.

Home rule is just a microcosm of a larger trend dividing counties in this state, population growth.

Since 1980, Kanawha County has seen steady decline in population from its peak in 1960. Every county surrounding Kanawha, with the exception of Putnam, has seen similar decline.

Kanawha County’s population decline matches that of West Virginia, as well. While the state’s population has remained relatively steady over the past four years, it has seen an overall trend of decline. It’s also the only state in the union that has seen an overall decline in population since 1950.

Monongalia County, on the other hand, has seen tremendous growth over the past four years.

Take a look at this graph that tracks the percent change of the population since 2010. You can see the vast difference between the trend in Monongalia County versus Kanawha County and the state.

What does all this mean?

Well, almost every county government in this state is structured the same way, with the same revenue sources (coal severance tax and property tax). So for a county that’s seeing unprecedented growth while watching its budget fall as revenue from the coal severance tax falls, the budget limitations can be maddening. That’s leading to some contention between declining and growing counties as to which policies are best for the future of the state.

Correction: When I first wrote this story, I mentioned that the north was seeing growth in population. It has been pointed out to me, that this isn’t exactly true. While Monongalia county and a few of the counties surrounding it have seen some growth, for the most part, the north is matching the same trends of the rest of the state and declining in population. Basically this is a county issue, not a north vs. south issue.