WILLMAR -- Willmar city officials contend a forthcoming estimate of the city's population falls short by at least 700 people.
The newest set of figures from the Minnesota State Demographical Center won't be publicly released until July.
But city officials have already seen the estimate and they're disputing it.
"We are challenging it," said Bruce Peterson, the city's community development director.
City officials believe Willmar's population stands at approximately 19,600. This would mean the city gained almost 600 residents since the last estimate a year ago, which had put the city's population at 19,040.
The state's preliminary estimate, however, shows a loss of about 100 people over the past year.
It's an important issue for the city, because many significant sources of state aid are based on population, Peterson said.
"It has a huge impact on local government aid and a lot of different funding formulas," he said.
There's also a possibility it could affect the city's bond rating, he said.
With the 2010 U.S. Census pending next year, local officials said it's especially critical to settle on a baseline with which they can agree.
The state population estimates are derived from a number of sources, including owner-occupied and rental housing information and data on household size. The statistics are benchmarked each year to April of the previous year.
Peterson said the city of Willmar gained new housing last year. City officials have seven years' worth of information on housing starts that could help bolster the city's case, he said.
"I think we can show a low vacancy rate in our apartments," said Steve Renquist, executive director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.
City officials also believe the state demographer's estimate of average household size and number of renters in Willmar is too low.
"I don't know how you can lose 100 people. They count differently than we do," Peterson said.
Population estimates going back to the 2000 census show that Willmar's population has grown modestly but consistently each year. The census counted 18,351 people who lived in Willmar. By 2006 the city's population had grown to 18,948 and last year's estimate, the most recent, put the city's population at 19,040.
Willmar officials also contested the 2000 census number as being too low, but ultimately lost their case.