By Beniamino Nardin, Harwood correspondent
The Mad River Valley Planning District (MRVPD) is currently finalizing work on its 2021 report compiling data on population, tax receipts and unemployment for The Valley – among other things. Since no MRVPD report was published for 2020, this coming report will be the first to include any effects the pandemic has had on the Mad River Valley.
Meanwhile, the planning district is also “working on an exciting new way to share data with our community, called the community indicators dashboard,” said Amy Tomasso, MRVPD community planner. “The online dashboard will launch within the next month or so and will exist in addition to our annual data report as a more accessible and usable way for residents and decision-makers to understand how The Valley is doing and make data-informed decisions,” she explained.
With the new dashboard, statistics regarding The Valley will be made readily available for residents to examine. Until then, the 2019 report offers insight into existing data.
The MRVPD’s 2019 report indicated there was a steady decline in deaths in Waitsfield and Warren and an imperceptible increase for Fayston over the past few years. Furthermore, the 2019 report shows that elementary school enrollment in The Valley remained constant at about 1,000 enrolled students since 2009. The same goes for middle school enrollment, which has had an average of 400 students yearly enrolled since 2009.
Enrollment at Harwood Union High School has been on a steady decline, losing about 100 enrolled students in a decade. It remains to be seen how the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects will be portrayed in the 2021 report, as cases can be made that it will stay consistent in decline, or it will show a sharp decrease due to homeschooling and students leaving for smaller school environments or an increase due to students moving to the state.
It will be interesting to see how the 2021 report will acknowledge purchases of vacation homes. The 2019 report showed a steady decline of vacation homes since 2013, and it remains to be seen whether these numbers increased during the pandemic.
MRVPD’s 2019 report showed that since 2017 there has been a steady increase in emergency assistance from the Mad River Valley Interfaith Council, which provides emergency funding to families in The Valley.
Additionally, the 2019 report found that unemployment rates in The Valley were declining since 2017. In the new 2021 report, given the surge in unemployment near the beginning of the pandemic, the effects of the virus will most likely be seen.
“We cannot conclusively say how the pandemic affected the 2019-2021 data,” said Tomasso. Until the report is published, how The Valley was affected by COVID remains conjecture.