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Recently released data from the U.S. Census Bureau pin Charles County as the second-fastest growing county in the state last year.
Between July 1, 2012, and July 1, 2013, Charles County saw a 1.4 percent increase in population growth, just under Howard County’s 1.7 percent uptick. Kwasi Holman, the director of the county’s department of economic development, said the most recent census data available indicate Charles County had 152,864 residents as of last year.
Since 2010, Charles and St. Mary’s counties have seen a 4.3 percent increase in growth and are tied for third place as the fastest-growing jurisdictions in the state since then. Since 2010, Calvert County’s population has grown by 2 percent.
Since 1990, Southern Maryland has been the fastest-growing region in the entire state, according to data from the 1990, 2000 and 2010 censuses. Overall, the region has grown another 3.7 percent between 2010 and 2013.
Between 2010 and 2013 Maryland’s overall population grew to 5,928,814, a 2.7 percent increase.
Holman said he is “more pleased than surprised” by the growth trend in the county.
“Charles County remains one of the most attractive jurisdictions in Maryland ... because of our excellent school system, our low crime rates ... and the overall quality of life people enjoy,” Holman said. “In terms of the business climate, many newer residents have high education, which makes it more attractive for businesses to expand or relocate here. We also have seen in terms of educational attainment a 0.2 percent increase in graduate degrees, indicating our workforce has greater educational achievement than a year ago.”
Holman also said the median household income has increased by 4.8 percent in the county.
Charles County commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) was not so enthused, saying she was troubled by the testimony of “citizens who sit in traffic here every day, parents whose children’s schools are overcrowded and affected by redistricting,” and the like.
“Growth is positive when it is managed and planned,” Kelly said, adding that the income tax revenue generated in the county, a huge portion of what supports the budget, was lower than expected, and revenue from property taxes was equally dismal.
“When I’m hearing that our growth is the second-highest in the state, and those two are in decline, that’s troubling,” Kelly said. “It’s a strong warning that the growth must be managed.”
Kelly went on to say the growth pattern is a byproduct of what her opposition has encouraged.
“It’s the banner I’ve been waving for three years now, and I’m outvoted because there’s a majority that supports ... land use plans that support this kind of growth. I would love to be able to put a positive spin on things, but jurisdictions want to see growth when it adds to our tax base. ... If at the same time we were seeing an increase in property and income tax revenue, that would be a good thing. When you don’t see those and instead see them on the decline ... we need to be paying attention. There’s been a reticence, a flat-out refusal to take a more prudent approach.”
Southern Maryland Association of Realtors President Bud Humbert said Charles County has one of the highest property tax rates in the state, and the county “took a huge hit” when property values began decreasing.
“People come here because they like the benefits of living here,” Humbert said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing we’re having growth. The county is working diligently to manage the growth we have.”
Humbert also said the bulk of the county’s growth has been residential, and commercial and industrial growth — both necessary components — have not quite been up to snuff comparatively.
“We should be working harder to build the commercial base,” Humbert said, urging a renewed focus in particular on building up the county’s western side, in particular building a road similar to the cross-county connector and focusing on ways to drive up users for the Maryland Airport in Pomonkey. “They’re off to themselves over there, and they need the commercial growth.”
Humbert also said “any Realtor” locally can attest to increases in property values finally beginning to manifest, and that interest rates have remained steady.
Charles County Chamber of Commerce Chairman Steve Kensinger views the growth positively.
“It’s hugely important for the chamber of commerce to see that kind of growth,” Kensinger said. “Other areas around the D.C. metropolitan area haven’t seen this kind of growth. It’s a viable location. ... There are small- to medium-sized businesses that just thrive here. We felt the recession, but we’re growing. I think we’re faring better than a lot of places.”
Staff writer Jason Babcock contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org