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Population on the rise locally, while state loses



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April 13, 2011 - People are leaving Michigan, making it the only state in the union to lose population for the 2010 census period.

However, Oakland County is the exception to this rule, and in particular, Orion Township saw 5.8 percent growth, with the village of Lake Orion growing around 8 percent.

Township Clerk Penny Shults believes the reason for the growth is due simply to the attractiveness of living in Lake Orion.

"It's a desirable place to live, with its good schools, open spaces, and relatively low cost of living," said Shults. "The lakes play a big part in our population, as does the high end jobs nearby from companies like Chrysler, the Orion GM Plant, and Cobasys world headquarters.

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"Add in the affordable housing for all income levels and Orion becomes a great place to raise a family."

Shults said areas seeing increasing population influx include a number of "Pulte Subdivisions," such as The Preserves west of Baldwin Road on Waldon, and Heather Lakes Subdivision on Clarkston and Baldwin. Homes are also sprouting up near Squirrel and Dutton roads.

Orion's neighbor Oxford also saw a stark increase in population, especially in the Waterstone Subdivision.

"People want to stick through the hard economic times - they know we can pull through," said Shults. "We're willing to work together to help each other get over this bump."

Yet population isn't all good news. While an increase in population means more tax dollars, it also means an increase in services and utilities provided by municipalities.

Lake Orion Village Manager Paul Zelenak said an increase in population is almost always a good thing, but it comes with a share of increased responsibility.

"As more subdivisions open, more vehicles are on the road increasing wear and tear, more snow plow routes need to be planned, and more stress is put on the water and sewer systems," he said. "The increased taxpayers help to offset the cost, but we can only hope that people see value in Lake Orion's amenities, schools, downtown businesses, safety, and quality of life."

Oakland County Undersheriff Michael McCabe was less optimistic about the influx of residents, noting law enforcement officers in Michigan, even Oakland County, have been dwindling.

"There are around 3,400 less police officers since 2001, leaving us around 19,000 in Michigan," McCabe said. "We lost three deputies in Orion Township, we lost 25 deputies in the 15 communities we contract with, and we've gone from 252 total officers to 229 in those same communities. This means response time will get longer, and in general there will be less eyes and ears on the road.

"Anytime you have a population increase, you have an increased demand on police and fire service demand, and all we can do is match the contracts to meet the needs of the communities."

McCabe added the population increase was not surprising to the sheriff's department, due to their surveillance of growth predictions over the ten years leading up to the 2010 census. He also said the increased population won't effect law enforcement as much as municipal governments since the sheriff's department rely on property tax revenue.

Deputy Lt. Bruce Naile, stationed in Orion, agreed with McCabe and said Orion is below the FBI recommended number of officers per population.

"There should be one officer for every 1,000 people in a community, and by that math we're eight people short," Naile said. "We're not getting a lot of backlogs, but our dispatch logs generally increase when the Orion Plant goes to three shifts and obviously if population goes up there's going to be more traffic, increasing our workload."

Despite these concerns, McCabe agreed with Shults and Zelenak, and said an increase in population is still good news for Oakland County in otherwise rough economic times.

Lake Orion High School Principal Sophia Lafayette said the population increase hasn't effected the high school yet, and that more of an impact is likely to be seen at the elementary level first.

For more information about the 2010 Census, visit uscensus.gov.

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