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The population of St. Mary’s County as of last year was 13 people shy of 109,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

That was 1.2 percent higher than the county’s population of 2011, giving St. Mary’s the third-fastest growth rate in the state during the year. Howard County’s population grew by 1.9 percent and Montgomery County’s by 1.3 percent.

The 2012 population of 108,987 in St. Mary’s County was an increase of 4 percent since 2010 and 26 percent since 2000.

The population of Charles County reached 150,592 last year and Calvert County’s hit 89,628 in 2012.

Steve Anderson, director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Economic and Community Development, said the growth is still due to the presence of Patuxent River Naval Air Station and “the general quality of life in St. Mary’s. We are relatively close to major urban centers and offer a cost of living that is well below the national average,” he said.

St. Mary’s County Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said the community continues to grow and county government needs to invest in that growth. “It’s not been meteoric over the last year, but it’s still 1 percent,” he said of the county’s growth rate. “I don’t think we’re going to decrease, but how much we’re going to increase I couldn’t tell you.”

We’ve been on a ship to the moon here in Southern Maryland for a long time now,” said Jack Russell (D), president of the St. Mary’s County commissioners, of the region’s rapid growth since 1990. “I don’t believe we’re going to keep going at a fast pace. I don’t see us climbing as fast as we have in the past. We need to kind of settle down.”

Morgan said the county’s continuing growth is “a blessing and a curse.”

Growth keeps revenue and business coming to St. Mary’s. But it also creates demand for new infrastructure.

There are 17,583 students enrolled in St. Mary’s County public schools this year and more schools are needed to add to the existing 28 schools and other classroom facilities.

There is $85 million in the county’s building budget for the public school system between fiscal 2014 and 2019. A new elementary school is coming to Leonardtown, followed by two other elementary schools somewhere in the central county. A search is under way for a site for a new fourth public high school. The last new public high school built in St. Mary’s was Leonardtown High School, which opened in September 1978.

There is $3 million budgeted each year to resurface sections of county roads. The St. Mary’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation maintains 1,252 of 1,749 lane miles of roads (72 percent) in the county. The completion of FDR Boulevard from California to Lexington Park is budgeted at $25 million.

But while the population continues to increase in St. Mary’s, a policy intended to limit the number of new homes built has yet to be tested. Last fiscal year, from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, 784 new lots could have been created. Only 67, or 9 percent, were created.

This fiscal year, up to 799 new lots for new homes can be created.

Phil Shire, director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management, said recently development is filling in existing lots now rather than creating new ones.

The Maryland Department of Planning projects the population of St. Mary’s County to be 117,200 in 2015 and 151,300 in 2030.

For more than a century after the first census in 1790, the county’s population ranged between a low of 12,794 in 1810 to 17,182 in 1900, followed by increases and decreases up until 1940.

Then Patuxent River Naval Air Station opened in 1943. There were 29,111 people in St. Mary’s counted in 1950, which was double the number from 10 years before.