LAKE PLEASANT - A Cornell University study forecasts a dramatic decrease in the number of young adults in Hamilton County over the next 30 years, raising questions about who will fight fires, who will pay taxes and if the trend can be reversed.
The study, by Cornell's Program on Applied Demographics, which was presented to the Adirondack Review Board, determined that by 2040, the heavily forested Adirondack county will have only about 70 men and women between ages 25 and 29, with the number of 30- to 40-year-old residents also being reduced drastically.
The population is predicted to fall below 3,000 by then, following a trend that saw it fall from 5,379 in 2000 to 4,836 in the 2010 census.
"Population data from Hamilton County has been up and down over the years," said William G. Farber, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors. "I'm middle-of-the-road on this. I don't think it's as gloomy as Cornell says. It's not rosy either. But population (growth or decline) isn't that predictable."
Arietta Supervisor Richard Wilt said Cornell's report of depletion of young adults in the county was on the money.
"We aren't bucking the trend at all," Wilt said. "Except for seasonal residents, we absolutely are losing residents."
Emergency Management Coordinator G.L. Purdy II said he's concerned the county could have trouble finding volunteers to serve with fire departments and ambulance squads. The county has just one paid public safety agency - the county Sheriff's Department.
"If the current trend continues, we will definitely have more trouble filling emergency personnel slots," he said. "Our volunteers are aging now."
Purdy said young people need a reason to stay in the county year-round. Now, there isn't enough employment to keep them around, he said.
"Something must be done to bring jobs in," Purdy said, adding the Adirondack Park Agency's regulations "make it hard to start any industry in the county. There is just too much regulation."
Farber said the county's outlook should improve now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo awarded funds to the North Country Regional Economic Development Council as part of a statewide competitive funding initiative.
"The idea that New York state can have a one-size-fits-all outlook with upstate all viewed the same isn't a good fit," Farber said. "Going region by region is a better view."
Farber said tourist-based small business growth, forest products, biofuel development and self-sufficiency of Hamilton County residents all help to counter the bleak view of the future painted by Cornell.
"Making broadband and cell service available in the county should also help bring in younger people," Farber added. "You can do Web design and development from anywhere."
Farber said development of wood pellets, wood chips and wood slash for possible use in heating and pharmaceutical production are newer areas of industry the county is pursuing with some interested parties including companies from overseas.
"The simple reality is, demographics in the county have been heading in the wrong direction," Farber said. "We need to try to correct that."
Richard Nilsen writes for the Leader-Herald of Gloversville.