Population in the Twin Counties is on the decline, according to the latest report from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The annual census data factors in birth, death, immigration and emigration rates from 2010 to 2018. Columbia and Greene counties ranked 14th and 31st in the state, respectively. Greene decreased at a rate of 1.59%, or 785 residents, and Columbia at 3.1%, or 1,959 residents.
Local officials were not surprised by the news, saying that high taxes were to blame.
“It’s no shocker that every municipal agency is strapped by the state Legislature and governor to deliver mandated services which increases property taxes,” Greene County Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said.
“The state needs to take responsibility for what they mandate,” Linger said.
Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell agreed.
“People are voting with their feet,” he said. “They can’t afford to live here or retire after.”
Cold winters in the Northeast are not to blame, Greene County Treasurer Peter Markou said.
“It’s not because of the snow,” he said. “It’s because the cost of doing business and living here is extremely high. People are getting older and looking to retire in a warmer climate with lower taxes.”
The top 10 states that New Yorkers move to are Florida at 21.9%, New Jersey 13.6%, North Carolina 8.1%, Texas 7.4%, California 6.7%, Pennsylvania 6.4%, Connecticut 5.3%, Georgia 4.5%, South Carolina 3.4% and Virginia 3.2%, according to data from the IRS.
The most common destinations for Columbia and Greene county residents are Massachusetts and South Carolina, respectively.
On the state level, state Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-43, also thinks taxes play a role.
“Recent Census Bureau estimates indicating that residents continue saying ‘I leave New York’ and that our out-migration continues isn’t a surprise,” Jordan said.
“Taxes are too high. New York is unfriendly to businesses large and small. Families in my 43rd Senate District are angry about the billions in new taxes and fees imposed on them through the 2019-20 state budget,” she said. “Our hard-working family farmers are hurting and closing their doors — and the next generation can’t afford to take on a farm to generate a living.”
The problems are serious but the solutions are straightforward, Jordan said. To make New York more affordable means no new taxes and fees, cutting job-killing government red tape and creating good-paying jobs for the state’s young people.
“I’ve heard from taxpayers all across my district that they oppose the radical, extreme legislation Albany’s enacting. Folks want to escape from New York — and that won’t change until Albany changes and starts putting taxpayers first,” Jordan said.
Lower birth rates are also a contributing factor, Murell said.
“When I graduated in 1973, I graduated with almost 300 kids,” he said. “Today there are graduating class of less than 100.”
As people vacate the state in search of lower taxes, it increases the tax burden on the remaining residents, Linger said.
“You are also at risk of losing representatives at the federal level as well,” Linger said.
Populations struggling with low populations also miss out on population-based state aid, Murell said.
“Greene County’s strategy for attracting visitors has been through tourism,” Linger said. “We do the best we can with the tools we have available to us. We have been successful at making this a four-season destination instead of just focusing on the mountaintop in the winter.” Tourists often fall in the love with the area, Linger said.
“Many people come back and start their own businesses,” he said.
Murell thinks that establishing job opportunities is key to attracting new residents.
“Traditionally, this area had industry,” he said. “The economy now is focused on the service area. Having good-paying jobs would definitely benefit the area. People would move in to take jobs.”
“We have to create more jobs that provide a livable income for the people who live here and for young people,” he said. “It’s a beautiful place, but where are the jobs? People go where there is opportunity.”
Like Greene County, Columbia County has been targeting the tourism market.
“People will visit and end up living here,” Murell said. “It’s a beautiful area.”
The influx of tourists is bringing a whole new population, Markou said.
“They are bringing their income and new ideas into the community,” he said. “And we can always use new ideas.”
Aside from catering to tourists, offering services is critical, Catskill Town Supervisor Doreen Davis said.
“We need to make sure that we encourage people to come by providing reasonable services such as broadband,” Davis said. “It is hard to move if you can’t get appropriate service at your house.”
Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden agreed that broadband expansion is a priority.
“It is our goal to extend broadband to all corners of the county,” he said.
Quality education is also important, Davis said.
“We have to encourage teachers to come here so young families will want to live here,” she said.
Groden does not foresee population trends changing soon.
“New York has a reputation for being the highest taxed state in the nation from a property and income tax standpoint,” Groden said. “I don’t see that [population decline] slowing down.”