Fairbanks area survey finds higher population

Consultants say borough may have 10% more residents

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2007

FAIRBANKS - A survey counted nearly 97,000 people in the Fairbanks North Star Borough - a population about 10 percent higher than previously estimated.

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The borough hired consultants to conduct the survey. The consultants believe the disparity between their findings and numbers from the state Labor Department could point to incompatibilities between the Fairbanks lifestyle and methods used by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Many residents live in small cabins, with multiple cabins often clustered on single lots.

The bureau relies heavily on housing records provided by the U.S. Postal Service and counts everyone living in the United States at the start of each decade. The state Labor Department uses the bureau numbers to estimate its own population counts each year.

The borough plans to submit its new estimate to state officials and will ask the Borough Assembly on Thursday to endorse the project. Population numbers help determine how much money local communities get under road funding programs and in other assistance.

The survey rose from a sense within the borough that indicators were failing to reflect actual population changes, said borough economic development coordinator Kathryn Dodge. State numbers showed the Fairbanks area had added fewer than 200 people from 2005 to 2006, but building officials were reporting high levels of new home construction over the same period.

"Our sense was correct. We were being underreported," Dodge said.

The survey was led by the Fairbanks-based consulting firm Information Insights. The consultants began with a count of housing units in the area.

They looked at past census figures, then teamed with borough officials to tally the number of new homes, housing units and cabins used for year-round housing. An estimated 673 units were built since the 2000 census was taken.

The consultants settled on an occupancy rate of about 99 percent, a figure derived from vacancy indicators, said Ellen Ganley, Information Insight's president and principal consultant.

Thousands of households were called with survey questions. The consultants settled on a per-household population estimate before adding counts of people living on military bases, its jail, university housing and group homes, Ganley said.

The final tally was 96,945 people.

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