By Bill Spinks

It won’t be official until the U.S. Census Bureau releases its 2020 population figures next year, but Ellis County officials have announced that the county has reached an important milestone: a population of 200,000.

The Ellis County Department of Development revealed via social media on Wednesday that based on population projections, the county exceeded the mark sometime in mid-May.

County development director Alberto Mares explained that every spring, the North Central Texas Council of Governments produces population projections for the entire 16-county region. in 2019, NCTCOG estimated that Ellis County had a projected population of 190,170.

The council pegged the number as of Jan. 1 at 197,070, giving Ellis the highest growth rate in the region, Mares said. Based on conservative extrapolation of population growth figures, Mares said the 200K threshold was crossed during the middle of last month.

"The official census number may be slightly under because they take the snapshot of population on April 1," Mares said.

Population growth in Ellis County is beginning to accelerate because of new home construction, mainly in the northwestern quadrant of the county in and near the cities of Waxahachie, Midlothian, Red Oak, Ovilla and Glenn Heights.

NCTCOG has previously projected that Ellis County’s population could exceed 448,000 by 2030, and Mares implied in part that overall growth because of metroplex spillover doesn’t discount the possibility.

"The number I like to cite is that in the next 20 years, the population of the entire DFW metroplex is going to double from about seven and a half to 15 million," Mares said. "Because of the location of Ellis County, we’re going to absorb a lot of the growth, whether we like it or not."

Mares said Ellis County has a lot of undeveloped and cheap land among its approximately 952 square miles. "People are starting to look at the county and discover a hidden gem," he said.

The rise in population in the county has been steady, with only one hiccup over the last 40 years: during the Great Recession in 2009, when the county briefly lost about 2,000 residents.

Ellis County’s population was 59,743 in the 1980 U.S. Census and jumped to 85,387 in the 1990 head count. The population surpassed 100,000 in the 1990s and reached 150,000 in the 2010 census.

As of Jan. 1 of this year, county seat Waxahachie remained the largest city with 38,830 residents, while Midlothian was closing in fast with a population of 34,480. Ennis was third with 20,150, followed by Red Oak at 13,770, Ovilla at 4,140 and Ferris at 2,960.

Because of state legislative changes that led to a recent referendum, Ellis County is now a political entity in which cities cannot annex surrounding residents involuntarily. As a so-called "Tier 2" county, all municipal annexations within the county must be either conducted voluntarily by a landowner or voted-in by citizens.

"Not only are the cities growing, but also the unincorporated parts of the county," Mares said. "Only about 200 square miles of the county lie inside city limits."