By Curt Peterson
The notorious “struggle bus” that was the 2020 national census finally delivered its results last week. It had traveled through months of politicization and pandemic delays. The U. S. Census Bureau released its final report at 1 p.m. on Aug. 12, with some surprises for Vermont towns.
Killington is a case in point, showing an astounding growth rate over the 2010-2020 decade of 73.5%.
To put that growth in perspective, consider the starting point: Killington’s official population in the 2020 Census was 1,407. An increase of 596 full-time residents, while significant, isn’t a whole lot of people.
For example, Hartland, which experienced modest (1.6%) growth in the 2020 tally, would have to gain 2,532 people to match Killington’s 73.5% expansion. Since 2010, Hartland’s 3,446 residents were joined by only 53 people over the 10 years.
Keep in mind, that the census count of population changes is a “net” figure — what’s left after 10 years of deaths, emigration, immigration and births. There weren’t actually 596 individuals who came to Killington — after a decade there were that many more heads to count, some of whom had been there for a long time, and some who have arrived recently.
Of course, Hartland and Killington are different towns in many ways, just as Bridgewater, Brandon, Mendon, Pomfret, Plymouth and Woodstock each has its own characteristics and population growth opportunities. Each of those towns experienced demographic changes in the census as well: Bridgewater (-3.5%), Brandon (+4.1%), Mendon (+8.5%), Pomfret (+1.3%), Plymouth (+3.6%) and Woodstock (-1.4%).
Rutland City had the biggest headcount loss in the state — 688 fewer heads when the dust had settled. While Killington may have benefitted directly from its efforts to become a four-season resort destination, Woodstock is only different in that aspect by degree. The attractive Windsor County town, with a 2020 population of 3,005 — twice Killington’s — also has mountain biking, golf, nearby skiing, shopping and restaurants, but suffered shrinkage of 1.4% (43 fewer residents).
Two other factors have to be considered: availability of housing for new residents, and the demographics of the existing population.
According to Realtor.com, Hartland has 23 housing units for sale, Mendon has 34, Woodstock has 46, and Killington has 84 — and these are housing availability figures well after the growth indicated by the U.S. Census.).
Killington has more room to grow.
Proximity to highways from Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut and New Jersey makes Killington very attractive for people who can afford second homes. In addition, at last count, Killington had close to 600 short-term-rentals — built as full-time residences, often condominiums, but offered to rent for weekends, vacations, overnights or seasonally. These two factors created a plethora of residences easily converted to full-time permanent homes for people who learned to work remotely, and/or who were interested in moving from another state to a safer environment during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Another factor is the age demographics of a town’s population. In Hartland, according to the town clerk’s office over a year ago, 1,100, or one of every three residents, are over the age of 60.
Dare we use the term “attrition” without seeming callous?
While a younger community may enjoy a stable number of residents over a decade, a population weighted toward the elderly can find net growth elusive.
Having the capacity for more residents in an activity-rich town has helped Killington, and the Windsor Central Unified Union School District of which it is a part, in another way as well — the elementary school has gained additional students, presumably offspring of the newcomers. Over a short number of years, additional students will mean increased financial flexibility for the district under the current education funding system. Dividing the budget by a higher number of students brings the per-student cost down, making it easier to avoid penalties for overspending per pupil.