When the residents of Jefferson County voted to form a metro government, they thought the change would firmly establish Louisville as one of the nation’s 20 largest cities, but that’s not happened — at least not in the eyes of the U.S. Census Bureau.

That’s because in forming a metro government, Shively, Anchorage, Audubon Park and 80 other Jefferson County communities continue to exist as incorporated cities, and as long as they do, the Census Bureau will count their populations separate from the population of Louisville.

The difference is a matter of some 144,000 people. As far as the Census Bureau is concerned, Louisville’s population is 556,429, making it the 26th largest city in the United States. However, when the residents of the smaller cities are counted as part of Greater Louisville, the city’s population swells to nearly 700,000, making it the 16th largest U.S. city.

The difference caught many Louisville leaders by surprise. After all, one of the arguments proponents made for establishing the metro government was the advantages a larger city could receive in securing funds from the federal government. But Census officials say city officials were told from the start that the populations of the smaller cities would not be counted as part of Louisville’s population as long as they remained separate, incorporated entities.

Chad Carlton, a spokesman for Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson, said the difference is “not that big an issue to us,” even while insisting that Louisville deserves to be ranked 16th. He said the city won’t take down the welcome signs proclaiming metro Louisville the 16th-largest city in America — no matter what the Census Bureau says.

While it’s possible the city could lose some federal grants because of the difference, Carlton said, “I don’t think it’s something where there’s an obvious program where we’re going to lose $10 million in funding or $3 million in funding because we’re 26th instead of 16th.”

One would hope not. After all, most people say they are “in Louisville” regardless of where they are in Jefferson County. Most who drive through Cherrywood Village, for example, don’t even know they are in a separate, incorporated city.

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