Friday, August 07, 2015

TOP STORY >> Austin, Ward populations are growing

Leader senior staff writer

Growth in Austin and Ward has outpaced neighboring towns since 2010, while Cabot growth has slowed considerably and Jacksonville continued to lag behind, but Mayor Gary Fletcher says that’s about to change.

While Austin’s growth rate between 2010 and 2015 was 25.6 percent and Ward grew by 16.4 percent, Cabot’s growth was a more modest 9.5 percent and Jacksonville languished at 1.5 percent, according to Metro Trends Demographic Review and Outlook, published annually by Metroplan, with demographer Jonathan Lupton at the helm.


The key to Austin’s fast-paced growth from 2,038 to 2,560 during that time?

“It’s quiet up here,” Mayor Bernie Chamberlain said, adding that the city has easy access to highways and that a number of excellent subdivisions are being developed.

She said the city is thinking about asking for a special census to document the growth and qualify for more federal money.

While Austin grew by about 520 during that period, the growth in Jacksonville, a city almost 15 times larger, was only 432 people.

“The past is the past, but the future…we’re quite excited,” Fletcher said.

Among area central Arkansas towns, only Wrightsville (1 percent), England (-1.7 percent), Carlisle (-0.7 percent) and Cammack Village (-2 percent) had less growth than Jacksonville or lost population.

Lonoke added 140 people and grew 3.3 percent.


Growth slowed in Cabot, which grew by about 4,500 people between 2000-2005 but by only about half that from 2010-2015.

Fletcher said Jacksonville, with a history of old and poor schools, mired in a decades-old court desegregation suit, is less than a year from running its own school district, and he believes that will make all the difference.

“That’s why, for almost 30 years, we’ve tried to get our own school district, and 95 percent of voters approved that idea,” Fletcher said. “Now the community will be able to set standards that will draw young families.”

The new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District will be completely free of the Pulaski County Special School District and ready to start classes after July 1, 2016 — less than a year off.


Already, there are plans for a new elementary school and a new high school.

Fletcher said Jacksonville is also poised for commercial growth along the Hwy. 67/167 corridor bisecting downtown. Prime development property includes the old Jacksonville Boys and Girls Middle Schools, on a rise near, and visible from, the highway.

“I’ve sat here all these years, knowing others were growing, and we weren’t,” said Fletcher. “We’re not there, but we can see it.”

The rate of growth in Lonoke County declined from 3 percent in 1990-2000, to 2.6 percent from 2000-2010 to .09 percent from 2010-2015.

Only Pulaski County grew steadily during that time, but only by fractions of a percent. Faulkner County growth declined from 3.7 percent to 2.8 percent to 1.5 percent during that same period.


Little Rock experienced the most growth between 2010 and 2015, about 6,000 people, followed by Conway with about 5,300 and North Little Rock with 4,100. North Little Rock experienced the greatest turnaround from the 2000-2005 population, which actually decreased by 1,000.

Cabot, Maumelle and Sherwood all grew by less in 2010-2015 than in the 2000-2005 period.

Cabot’s population is now 26,040, Maumelle’s is 18,488, and Sherwood finally slipped over the 30,000 barrier with 30,725.

Jacksonville’s current population is 28,796.

Compared to 2000, the poverty rate increased in 2009-2013 in all the larger towns and cities in central Arkansas. North Little Rock had the highest poverty rate, 21.9 percent, followed by Little Rock at 18.6 percent and Jacksonville at 17.3 percent.

Cabot had a 12.7 percent poverty rate, Sherwood was 11.3 percent, and Maumelle was 5.1 percent.


In 2013, Arkansas had the fourth highest poverty rate in the nation.

Towns seem to be discouraging construction of multi-family housing units, which some see as leading to a greater population of poor or minority tenants.

In 2014, the last year for which there is complete data, Jacksonville issued building permits for 28 homes, the lowest in at least four years, while they issued permits for 12 units of multi-family housing.

Nearly two thirds of housing permits in the four-county region were for single-family units.


One problem for growth and economic development is the deterioration of roads, according to Metro Trends.

Budgetary restraints and other priorities, in combination with shrinking road and highway revenues from the federal government, have contributed to the poor conditions of so many roads.

And, when developers build roads into and through their new subdivisions, at completion, they are deeded to city or county governments, which are faced with the problem of maintaining more road with less money, Lupton said. Each new subdivision also requires more water and sewer from local utilities.

Some cities, such as Conway and Bryant, now require impact fees from developers — money to help offset the increased cost of maintenance, fire and police protection and water and sewer.