Declining population trend troubling, officials say | News, Sports, Jobs

The city of Williamsport lost population, like other cities in Pennsylvania, a crisis of societal changes and the economy.

And officials say there are no easy answers.

Since 1990, approximately 4,500 fewer residents have lived in Williamsport, and the trend does not appear to be reversing.

“Cities need a growing population to counter losses in tax revenue, whether it’s property or labor income or the local utility tax base,” said Skip Memmi, director of the city’s Department of Community and Economic Development.

The city’s population, based on the last 10-year US census, is 27,776, making it the 17th largest city in Pennsylvania. Based on the annual American Community Survey, it is 29,381, which is listed on the city’s website at

The population loss also reduces the city’s chances of obtaining various state and federal grants, erodes the tax base, and reduces the available labor force.

“The problem of population decline is probably the most important problem facing the city, as it has ripple effects throughout the city and impacts all other issues facing the city, especially the fiscal and economic challenges facing the city”, said Councilman Adam Yoder.

“Our current state-legislated tax structure is incentivizing population growth, and reversing the current trend is fundamental to addressing the city’s fiscal and economic challenges,” he said.

Today, “A bipartisan group of Council members had many discussions about reversing the city’s population decline, and those discussions centered on developing a comprehensive economic development strategy and development plan. ‘execution focused on the growth of our population’, Yoder said.

Such an economic plan has a price tag of around $150,000 and has been discussed as being fundable through the city’s use of $25.5 million in the US bailout.

Without the injection of money, the city only has plans on paper.

“The final development and progress of this plan, unfortunately, has not progressed to the level that I had hoped, but I hope that these efforts will continue and that this work will come to fruition sooner rather than later, because if we can address this fundamental challenge, it will contribute to our efforts to address many of the other challenges facing the city – public safety, public infrastructure, etc. Yoder said.

Memmi, whose previous work experience was in Dauphin County, said the population loss and negative financial impacts are not isolated to that city.

“It’s not just a Williamsport phenomenon, but it’s happening statewide,” Memmi said.

As more people flock to warmer climates to live and work, the colder northeast is becoming less appealing, he said.

According to the census, Williamsport in 1990 had 32,270 people, and the decline has been gradual since.

In 2000, at the dawn of the millennium, with a downtown renaissance, Williamsport boasted a population of 30,706.

It was the start of a slow leak and the most recent census population shows far fewer people living here.

Whether the numbers are accurate is debatable.

“I don’t believe they capture everyone in the city,” Memmi said.

The city is home to two major colleges – the Pennsylvania College of Technology and Lycoming College, which have students throughout the year who are in the city but are not captured by the main counters and included in these population counts .

Yet the city has a mandate to provide services to these people, including students, staff and visitors.

“No transient populations are included in the data”, Memmi said.

Still, the city is obligated to provide services to those people, he said.

For example, when a car accident occurs or an illness occurs for this uncounted segment of the population, the city’s emergency services intervene.

“This population that is served is never fully captured in the census trail and we care for everyone who passes by,” Memmi said.

The federal government “doesn’t always provide the appropriate resources to capture the true cost of doing business,” he said.

As Memmi pointed out, these numbers are debatable and are based on the annual survey of the American community versus the population count every ten years. But, for the most part, it shows a slow drain of residents and a challenge to the forefront of Williamsport City Council and Mayor Derek Slaughter’s administration.

Memmi acknowledged that creating the plan in collaboration with the board, administration and stakeholders is one of his goals.

“We are working on a global plan” he said. “We don’t have answers, but we understand the need for a comprehensive plan.”

Sufficient data and information on the plans the city has committed to in previous years may be available. These plans can be taken off the shelf and updated, he said.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development uses population as part of a formula for distributing grants to cities, Memmi said.

“These are not the only statistics that HUD uses”, he said.

A few ways HUD creates a formula, he said.

One way is they look at population, the number of people living in poverty and overcrowded housing, he said.

The challenge is that because of metrics like the census, which shows 1,605 fewer residents of Williamsport, the grant funding may not be as high as it could be, Memmi said.

“More people living in the city translates to increased tax revenue through the collection of labor income, property, and new ordinances that are being proposed, such as those targeting owners of vacant buildings who have them. left inactive for many years”, he said.

City Treasurer/Collector Nicholas Grimes also described how this is not a challenge to be easily solved, but a challenge that needs to have an action plan in 2022.

“I don’t have the answer to population growth, but it’s a problem we absolutely have to tackle,” said Grimes.

“This is a problem that needs a comprehensive plan.

“There are a lot of elements to this between us making it more attractive to younger generations, job and wage growth, housing stock, all of which come into play and it has to be a plan overall”, said Grimes.

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