Tuesday, July 25, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Austin, Ward grow fastest

Even as population growth has slowed in other north Pulaski and Lonoke county cities and towns, Austin and Ward in recent years have seen their population increase at least 1,000, or 38.6 percent and 26 percent respectively.

Cabot has grown more — 1,657 since the last census — but with its population of 2,5433, that’s just an increase of 7 percent. Cabot is still on track to grow 10 percent this decade, just shy of 30,000, which is still impressive, especially if you count all over north Lonoke County’s growth at more than 4,500 so far this decade, probably more if Cabot and Ward took an early census before 2020.

Austin paid for an early census, which found 1,041 new residents since the 2010. That will pump an additional $342,000 into city coffers between now and the 2021 release of the next census.

The state sends a lot of turnback money to cities and towns — $82 per resident — $60 of which is earmarked for the street funds, with the remaining $22 for the Austin general fund.

Writing in “Metrotrends — Demographic Review and Outlook,” demographer Jonathan Lupton says Austin’s 38.6 percent growth, with more than 3,000 residents, was the highest in the four-county Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway Metropolitan Statistical Area between 2010 and 2017, with Ward not far behind at 26 percent and 5,126 population.

Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) arranged funding for the special census, making an early count possible for rapidly growing communities that want the latest numbers and make them eligible for more state aid. The census cost about $95,000, but the state grant paid for $70,000 of that. That’s a pretty good deal in return for $342,000 in turnback funds. Congratulations, Mayor Bernie Chamberlain, city officials and Sen. Williams.

Cabot used to lead the area in growth, but its increase from 23,776 residents in 2010 to 25,433 in 2017 translates to a more modest 7 percent gain. Sherwood gained 5.9 percent, from 29,523 to 31,257.

“The region is now seeing its slowest rate of overall population growth since 1980-1990 decade,” according to Lupton. “Metroplan will be making adjustments to its population projects for the upcoming regional plan.”

Lonoke grew by 1.2 percent, from 4,245 to 4,295. England and Carlisle both lost population.

While growth was solid to impressive in Cabot, Austin and Ward, in neighboring Jacksonville, population growth continues to be flat, according to Lupton. Jacksonville’s population grew only 1.2 percent, from 28,364 in 2010 to 28,712 in 2017.

The largest growth occurred in Saline County — 11.5 percent, followed by Faulkner County — 8.6 percent; Lonoke County — 6.3 percent and Pulaski County — 3.2 percent.

Saline County’s growth is spurred by increases in Benton — 15.5 percent; Bryant — 24.3 percent, accounting for about 9,000 of the 12,000 person increase in the county.

In Pulaski County, Maumelle’s 10.5 percent increase was the highest, followed by a 5.9 percent increase for Sherwood — from 29,523 to 31,257. Little Rock’s 2.7 percent, about an increase of about 5,000.

Between 2013 and 2016, permits for 8,240 new housing units were issued in Benton, Bryant, Cabot, Conway, Hot Springs Village, Jacksonville, Little Rock, Maumelle, North Little Rock and Sherwood. Of those, 5,097 are single-family units and 3,143 multi-family units.

In 2016, the most recent year for which complete data are available, Cabot issued 90 single-family and zero multi-family permits.

Jacksonville issued 35 single-family permits, and four multi-family permits, and Sherwood issued 223 single-family permits (the most after Little Rock) but zero multifamily permits.

On a positive note, $200 million in improvements on Hwy. 67/167 should bring another boom to this area that started in the 1970s. A six-lane highway from North Little Rock to Cabot should make commuting easier and bring more people and businesses to the area.