Friday, January 12, 2001

People moving for better schools, new neighbors

Hamilton County seeks reasons behind exodus

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County residents believe people are leaving to live in nearby Tristate counties because they want better schools or different neighbors, according to a countywide survey released Thursday.

        Pursuit of a better education for children is seen by Hamilton County residents as the top reason that people pull up stakes and move to Butler, Warren or other suburban counties that have grown rapidly as Hamilton lost people.

        But the No. 2 reason cited in the survey — the changing racial makeup, income levels and age levels of the county's communities — alarmed some who attended a Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission conference announcing the survey results.

    The 4,500 survey respondents were asked Hamilton County's population fell between 1984 and 1997. Here's what they said:
    • To find better schools — 64%
    • Changing demographic mix of communities — 42%
    • To have lower taxes — 38%
    • To obtain higher housing/property values - 36%
    • Because of high crime — 27%
    • To obtain more affordable housing — 26%
        A broadly defined category of “changing demographic mix of communities” was picked by 42 percent of those who responded, topping crime, taxes, housing and property values.

        Some elected officials called for further study to see if people are fleeing Hamilton County because their communities are becoming more diverse.

        “I think what people are really talking about are issues of ethnicity and race,” said Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune.

        The survey mailed to 4,500 Hamilton County residents last October was intended to gauge public opinion on development and community growth and shed light on why the county lost more residents since the mid-1980s than any other Ohio county except Cuyahoga. Planners will use the survey results to help craft a countywide, comprehensive plan to guide growth.

        Some questioned the survey's accuracy because only 26 percent of those who were mailed a survey returned it. The respondents also were older, better educated, earned more money and were more likely to own a home than the average county resident.

        The planning commission survey is not a scientific sample because it relied on those who mailed back responses. Officials said there is no way to project a margin of error. “One can say these are the elitist comments,” said Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin. “I would hope we don't build our community, based on the response of 1,158 residents.

        Other survey highlights include:

        • An overwhelming majority (85 percent) agree that local governments should talk to each other about development to ensure the region benefits.

        • A majority (62 percent) didn't believe they have enough say over development issues.

        Regional Planning Commission spokesman Steve Johns described the survey as an initial step and added that more information will be considered as the comprehensive planning effort picks up steam.

        So far, 22 cities and townships representing 75 percent of Hamilton County residents have joined the planning effort. Organizers are seeking buy-in from other municipalities such as Colerain Township before starting to draft the plan, said Adam Goetzman, Green Township development director.

        Mr. Johns said the master plan isn't meant to overshadow other development schemes, including a controversial framework governing growth in western Hamilton County. Mr. Goetzman said the master plan is badly needed as a blueprint for development in Hamilton County, struggling to shore up its population.

        A recent Ohio State University study showed more people have left Hamilton County than any other county in Ohio except Cuyahoga County. Meanwhile, suburban Warren and Butler counties had the largest influx of newcomers.

        OSU's Data Center study didn't include suburban Greater Cincinnati counties outside Ohio such as Boone, Kenton and Campbell in northern Kentucky and Dearborn County in southeastern Indiana.

        A total of 62,860 people moved out of Hamilton County from 1986 to 1997. More than 114,000 people left Cuyahoga County during the same period.

        Butler County was the state's top gainer, with 22,919 people moving there. Warren County attracted 22,233 newcomers, and Clermont County welcomed 16,142 new residents, the fifth most statewide.


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