Lawton-Ft. Sill census dispute

Lawton_The population estimates for Lawton for 2007 are in, and the number is surprisingly low. The census bureau puts the Lawton population at 91,568.  It's higher than estimates in the past few years, but still nearly a thousand people less than the official census numbers from 2000, when we checked in at 92,563. Some area officials doubt the accuracy of the numbers, as there's some confusion about whether the Lawton numbers include the Fort Sill population--which according to post officials is between 16,000 and 18,000.  Local officials say Fort Sill should definitely count for Lawton.

As a state representative in 1998, Comanche County Commissioner Ron Kirby authored a bill for Lawton to annex Fort Sill, which the state legislature approved.  It officially made the city Lawton-Fort Sill.

"We tried to get them to include the population of Fort Sill as part of the total population of the Lawton-Fort Sill community," Kirby said.  "They did not."

Norman gets to count the University of Oklahoma towards their population, which Kirby says isn't fair.

The Lawton-Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce says the Lawton Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) numbers are a more accurate estimate of the population.  The Lawton MSA includes all of Comanche County.

"If you look at Lawton with the annexation numbers for the MSA, it shows us that we're above 100,000, at about 115,000," said Chamber president Dana Davis.  "If you take us out of the MSA and look just at Lawton city proper then we are at that 90,000 figure."

Officials say it's important to the city to have 100,000 people.  Kirby says it's a magic number, because it's a cut-off number for many grants that affect prlaw enforcement, community development, and beautification projects.  It's also important in attracting business.  The Chamber of Commerce markets Lawton using the 100,000 number.

"When national retail, national restaurants look at a community, they kind of have that threshold, they're looking for communities of 100,000," Davis said.   "That's why I think the Lawton MSA being 100,000 is important to us."

Officials expect the Lawton-Fort Sill population will grow 10% in the next three years due to BRAC--just in time for the 2010 census.

"That way we will get to count those people and it has an impact for the next 10 years, on the amount of funding that's available for your community."

Davis and Kirby both think the 2010 census numbers will surprise people, putting the population well over 100,000.