SEBRING - They said, he said.
The U.S. Census Bureau's latest population estimates of the Highlands County and all three municipalities are again lower.
However, County Commission Jack Richie says those numbers have inverted.
"I think are already reversing that," Richie said Friday. "I think it's happening by itself."
In 2009, commissioners and planners were preparing for Highlands to officially push over the 100,000 mark, which would have affected whether the county could apply for state and federal grants.
However, the 2008 economic recession shut down new home and business construction. Contractors and subcontractors left for greener Midwestern pastures and the nascent oil boom. Thousands of Highlands County mortgages were foreclosed; some houses sat empty.
"The banks held us back by holding up foreclosures," Richie said. The Highlands County court clerk counted 1,260 stalled foreclosures last month.
"But I think we can be a little optimistic about our immediate future," Richie said. Real estate agents have told Richie that coastal Floridians who have gotten their insurance premiums are moving to Highlands, one factor in the 2013 real estate buying boom.
"That's a big motivator," Richie said. "Ours are high compared to what they used to be, but there are people buying homes and moving in from the east. That's what I'm being told. They're not coming from out of state."
The Avon Park census counted 8,836 in 2010; 8,825 were estimated in 2011.
The Lake Placid census counted 2,223 in 2010; 2,219 were estimated in 2011.
The Sebring census counted 10,491 in 2010; 10,474 were estimated in 2011.
The Highlands County census counted 98,786 in 2010; 98,727 were estimated in 2011, and 98,128 in 2012.
During the same period, Okeechobee County also lost about 500, DeSoto lost 150. Regional winners were Glades, up 223; Hardee, up 117; and Polk was up 14,049.