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Census points out where the money is

Age and income statistics paint an interesting portrait of our county. Some of them might surprise you.

By JIM ROSS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 22, 2002

Age and income statistics paint an interesting portrait of our county. Some of them might surprise you.

The sector that includes Sugarmill Woods registered the greatest median income in Citrus County during the 2000 census.

The median income for households in that census tract was $41,312, well above the county's overall figure of $31,001.

Beverly Hills was on the other end of the spectrum: Its households registered a median income of $24,875, the county's lowest.

The median is the middle point, so half the households reported income greater than the stated figure and half reported incomes less than the figure. The figures are from 1999.

The statistics, which the U.S. Census Bureau recently released, paint an interesting picture of Citrus County.

Dick Schnably, president of the Beverly Hills Civic Association, noted two reasons why median income might be relatively low in his community's 4,415 households.

"Fixed incomes," he said. "And we are getting a lot of younger families moving in and they are just getting started."

The fixed incomes belong to retirees, who typically get by on Social Security, pensions and other investments as opposed to wages and salaries.

Although Beverly Hills got "younger" during the 1990s -- the median age dipped from 71 to 67.8 -- the area still is regarded as an affordable haven for retirees with modest nest eggs.

And the young families?

"Beverly Hills lends itself, because of the price of real estate, to starter homes which are affordable to the younger families," Schnably said. Some of those people also rent homes.

Lee Nowicke, a Beverly Hills resident and civic activist since 1987, agreed with that assessment.

"The homes that were built here in 1965 or 1970, those were the smaller homes, and they were the lower-priced homes," said Nowicke, a retired mechanical engineer and chemist. "Those houses are selling fairly low, so people with low incomes can afford them. I think that has a big influence."

Sugarmill Woods also is home to many retirees. Indeed, Sugarmill's population grew 53 percent during the 1990s, in large part because of a significant increase in the number of people age 65 and older, census figures showed.

But those retirees apparently have more generous retirement packages.

"I think the reason we have the high median income is because most people are retired either from public service (or professions) and their retirement is very high," said Skip Steighner, a Sugarmill resident since 1988 and former candidate for state House of Representatives.

"It's more like Citrus Hills, where you get much bigger homes," Nowicke said of Sugarmill.

Steighner said he has witnessed Sugarmill Woods grow significantly during the 1990s. The opening of the Suncoast Parkway at U.S. 98, just a few minutes from Sugarmill, will lead to even more growth, he said.

"We're going to become a bedroom community to Tampa," Steighner predicted. "I think a lot of people, because of the new expressway, are considering this area."

Steighner said he expected the Sugarmill growth to come regardless of whether the parkway's Citrus extension is built.

Maggie Quick, a Realtor with Sugarmill Woods Sales Inc., already has noticed the Tampa Bay crowd finding its way to Sugarmill.

"We are attracting younger professionals more than other areas in this county," said Quick, who specializes in resales. "I'm seeing a trend in younger professionals coming up from the Tampa area. I think it's proximity."

And the retirees?

"For obvious reasons (the Sugarmill golf courses, tight deed restrictions and overall atmosphere) we attract out-of-state retirees with very healthy retirement incomes," Quick said.

In some ways, the census figures might be a bit misleading. For example, Citrus residents might expect that the tract with the greatest median income would have to include Riverhaven, Black Diamond or Citrus Hills.

But many wealthy people who own homes and property in those upscale developments maintain their full-time residences elsewhere, and thus wouldn't have been counted in the Citrus census, Property Appraiser Ron Schultz noted.

Quick agreed, noting that Sugarmill residents are more likely to be year-round residents and thus would have been included in the Citrus census readings.

In addition, the tracts are so large that the higher-end developments are blended with lower-income areas -- so much so that the tract's median income might be reduced significantly and not fully reflect the pockets of wealth.

For Citrus County, the overall median household income in 1999 (as reported in the 2000 census) was $31,001. That put Citrus 45th among the state's 67 counties.

After adjusting for inflation, the median income was 11.6 percent greater than it was in 1990.

Some interesting shifts occurred during the 1990s. In the 1990 census, for example, 18 percent of Citrus households registered annual incomes less than $10,000. By 2000, that was down to 10.3 percent.

At the high end, 1.9 percent of households enjoyed annual incomes in excess of $150,000. Only 0.5 percent of Citrus households reporting in the 1990 census said the same.

The percentage of households receiving Social Security remained steady (about 52 percent) during the 1990s, and the number collecting other retirement income increased 3 percentage points, from 32 percent to 35 percent.

The poverty statistics: 8.5 percent of Citrus families lived in poverty in 2000, the same percentage as a decade earlier.

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