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Our View: Population decline more than a blip

Published: Sunday, June 29, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

It’s not time to panic, but we are a little concerned about a recent Census report that shows McHenry County continues to lose residents while neighboring counties are gaining them.

We think it is more than just a “blip,” as some area officials characterized it.

According to the most recent report, McHenry County’s population dropped by about 1,350 residents between 2010 and 2013, or about 0.5 percent. During the same time frame, according to the U.S. Census survey, Kane County’s population grew by 8,374 residents, or 1.6 percent.

While some other area counties have seen overall population declines since 2010, including Lake County, none except McHenry County saw a decrease between 2012 and 2013, when the county lost about 320 residents, according to the Census report.

Some area officials characterized the population decline as either a blip or, even, inaccurate. But there is other evidence that McHenry County is not growing in population.

Many county school districts, for example, have been seeing declining enrollment, in some cases significantly.

Cary School District 26 has closed two schools in recent years because of significantly fewer students. Crystal Lake District 47 has discussed closing a school because of enrollment declines, which are projected to continue. Enrollment at District 2 serving Richmond and Spring Grove has dropped 21.6 percent since the 2005-06 school year. Other area school districts, such as Johnsburg District 12 and Prairie Grove District 45, have been cutting staff because of enrollment declines.

Once one of the fastest growing counties in the U.S., McHenry County has been slow to recover from the Great Recession.

High property taxes and costs of living, as well as inadequate transportation options, could be among the reasons that McHenry County is losing residents to other collar counties and likely even Wisconsin. While we’ve made progress on the transportation front in recent years – Rakow Road and Route 47 widening, the Huntley interchange, the soon-to-be-completed Algonquin bypass, among others – the commutes from here to jobs in Chicago or nearer suburbs remain long and frustrating.

As we said at the top, it’s not time to panic. But area officials need to be aware of this disturbing trend, and start working together to reverse it.

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