Much of Ward County, including Minot, grew at a rate of around 3 percent last year, according to new estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau today.
The estimates give Minot a July 2011 population of 42,485, up from 40,888 in the official April 2010 census and 41,159 in the July 2010 estimate.
Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman said he isn't putting a lot of stock in the numbers.
"It's very difficult now to try to figure out how many people we actually have. Indications are we have quite a few more than that," he said of the estimate.
There's been talk that Minot's population has reached 50,000, but Zimbelman said that might not quite be the case.
"We are probably approaching it, though," he said. "If we could just get things to settle down a little bit and get some of these houses back online so we have a better chance of counting people, I would think the city would want to do its own census."
There is advantage to another census if the population has reached 50,000 because federal programs treat cities of 50,000 population or more differently.
The new census estimates showed both Watford City and Williston were growing at around 9 percent, ranking them among the fastest growing cities in the state.
Fargo's population grew 1.4 percent last year, and Bismarck was up nearly 1.8 percent. Grand Forks dipped slightly, down 0.5 percent.
All towns in Ward County, along with the rural population, grew last year. Surrey grew 3.4 percent, and Burlington and Berthold both grew 3 percent, but those towns could just be getting started if projected housing developments produce the booms expected over the next few years. Kenmare also grew nearly 3.3 percent.
Rod Backman, chairman of the North Dakota Census Committee in the state Department of Commerce, said the estimates are low compared to what communities in the oil patch believe they are experiencing.
"I don't think it's much of a surprise," he said. "We have probably 24,000 people living in crew camps. Most of those people, we know, were not counted because they weren't even counted in the 2010 count."
The estimates are based on change from 2010 so if people are missed in the official census, they won't be in the estimates, he explained.
It also is difficult to measure migration in rapidly growing areas, Backman said. Tax returns are the best measuring tool, but those figures run two years behind, he said.
He added that the estimates mirror the earlier release of county population estimates, showing that there's growth, although slower, in eastern North Dakota, too.
The Census Bureau estimates North Dakota's 2011 population at 683,932, but Backman said it certainly is higher today.
"I think we are pretty easily over 700,000," he said.