The East End accounted for the largest percentage gains in population in Suffolk County in the last 10 years, with towns on the South Fork seeing the greatest increases, according to recent data released from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Shelter Island, which has by far the smallest population, had the largest increase of 36%. That brings the population to 3,253.
Supervisor Gerry Siller said he hasn’t had chance to digest the numbers yet, but said “it kind of stunned me” because during the time the Census was being done, he kept hearing that response rates were very low.
Councilman Jim Colligan said he thought COVID, which drove a lot of people to relocate to the Island, may have contributed to the population spike if they decided to declare the Island their primary residences.
He also noted it has been 10 years since the last Census and “a lot of houses have gone up on the Island” during that time.
Riverhead Town saw a 7.15% increase in population from the 2020 census compared to 2010, while Southold Town saw an 8.02% increase, both of which were larger than any increases in towns in western Suffolk.
Some officials think the increases on the East End still don’t account for everyone.
“The number seems like a substantial undercount,” said Southold Supervisor Scott Russell.
The population reported in Southold increased from 21,968 to 23,732. Mr. Russell said there is “a big difference between living in Southold full time and claiming Southold as your primary residence.”
In Riverhead Town, the population increased from 33,506 to 35,902.
“The Town increased its population in various categories,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said in a statement. “However, this is not endemic to only Riverhead Township. Across our nation we are also seeing an increase. Bottom line, the increase often leads to more financial support.”
Southampton Town saw a percent increase of 21.6%, from 56,790 to 69,036.
“I think there’s two factors driving the big number,” said Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. “One is that I think they did a better job counting people. I think a lot of those people were here 10 years ago but weren’t counted.”
Mr. Schneiderman feels the increase represented many people who had second homes on the East End and decided to make them their primary residences. “We didn’t have a 20% growth in the number of new homes built,” he said. “Not even close. So the population increase basically means that summer homes are being occupied more. That’s a big factor.”
While the percentage increase in Southampton Town is already high, Mr. Schneiderman feels it might be too low. “My guess is that the real numbers are quite a bit higher,” he said. “We know that in the summertime we have like 200,000 people here. The year-round population is probably closer to 100,000. That would be my guess. People who came and stayed.”
In the five western Suffolk towns — which have much larger populations than the East End — Babylon had the largest increase of 2.2%.
East Hampton Town saw a percentage increase of 32%, going from 21,457 in 2010 to 28,385. Peter Van Scoyoc, the town supervisor, has said he thinks the population is much greater than the census number.
Suffolk County’s overall population is now 1,525,920.
State Senator Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), whose district accounts for the five East End towns and parts of Brookhaven Town, said his district had the biggest increase in the state and gained about 35,000 people. He attributes this to “people fleeing New York City” and said he expected the increase.