New census numbers show Wellington has a growing poverty problem, and the average household income is shrinking fast.
The data, released last week, lumps the village and township together and covers 6,289 residents.
It shows the number of people living below the poverty line growing from 8.5 percent in 2009-2013 to 10.7 percent in 2014-2018.
Household income dropped by nearly 20 percent for those same years, going from $60,908 to $48,871, and was mirrored by a drop in average home values to $124,800 — a change of 23 percent.
Stacked against other Lorain County communities, the picture is grim.
The census figures show income booming by 34.4 percent in Rochester and 24.1 percent in Sheffield Lake. Other healthy gains were seen in New Russia Township, Avon, Carlisle Township, Huntington and Grafton, with most other areas seeing modest growth.
Not everybody is winning the income game, though. Amherst Township and Penfield took losses almost as big as Wellington’s.
The census data has Mayor Hans Schneider stumped.
“I’m just struggling to figure out where those numbers are coming from,” he said.
Wellington has thriving with new housing, he said. Its industrial park is nearly full, the county raised property valuations and utilities shutoffs have fallen off.
Schneider said it’s hard to believe residents’ average income has fallen when income tax collections have increased.
In a Dec. 16 meeting, Councilman Gene Hartman said collections are up about 34 percent this year. That’s largely due, however, to a voter-approved increase last November.
It is possible, said Schneider, that the village of Wellington is stable while the township is experiencing issues — but the census numbers lump the two together.
The far more comprehensive census required under the Constitution will be conducted in 2020.
The results could show Wellington hitting 5,000 residents, the magic number to automatically elevate it to city status.
The 2010 census officially put the village’s population at 4,802.
“I think we’re going to be close again. We’re either going to be just under or right there,” Schneider said.
Village leaders have prepared for becoming a city. In 2010, they drew up a charter “so we could have some sort of self-rule,” as Schneider put it, and voters approved the charter.
The document allows Wellington to keep operating pretty much as-is, without having to bow to requirements in the Ohio Constitution.
For example, cities without charters must have a mayor and a safety-services director, a treasurer and an auditor. Wellington has a mayor and a village manager, along with a single finance director.
Cities must also have their own fire departments by statute. The Wellington Fire District operates independently from the village and will continue to do so, thanks to the charter.
The charter will even prevent the town’s name from changing. Even as a city, it will continue to be called the village of Wellington.
“We’ve looked at this for a long time and we’ve been prepared for it. We’re ready to go,” said Schneider. “That’s why everyone puts their heads together.”
That’s not to say some things won’t change.
The biggest possible issue, according to the mayor, will be the potential for unionization by village employees.
As a city, there’s no reason Wellington can’t continue to feel like a small town, said Schneider. If the population stays in the 5,000 to 5,100 range for the next decade, “then what really changes?” he asked. “We’ve just added 100 people, that’s all.”
“We’re still going to bed at the same time, we’re still getting up at the same time. We’re still going to work and getting it done.”