Leader Blues

Friday, June 23, 2006

TOP STORY >> Cabot growth second in state

BY JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: Latest census figures show the city has gained more than 1,400 people between 2004 and 2005, ahead of all cities in central Arkansas, but Jacksonville, which once grew faster than any city in Arkansas, is trying to move forward once again after several years of limited growth.

The U.S. Census Bureau released its annual population estimates Wednesday, and Cabot still holds the position of second-fastest growing city in the state among cities with populations above 10,000.

The estimated population of Cabot, which has built about 400 new homes every year for several years, is 21,039 for 2005, up from 19,590 in 2004. The estimates are arrived at by adding data such as building permits to the numbers for the 2000 census.

In the lead is Bentonville, with an estimated population of 29,538, up from 27,799. Holding positions 3-10 in order are Maumelle, Bryant, Springdale, Siloam Springs, Rogers, Conway, Fayetteville and Benton.

Jacksonville, Cabot’s neighbor to the south, was a little smaller in 2005 than it was in 2004, if the numbers are to be believed. The population fell from 30,513 to 30,367.

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim says the numbers are just estimates. His city has built about 200 houses each year for two years, so the numbers could be higher. The city is recovering, he said, from a decline caused by bad publicity surrounding the Vertac chemical plant, which was cleaned up eight years ago.

Now the growth is steady, but not so fast that it strains the city’s coffers. “Good steady growth is to be desired,” Swaim said. “We were the fastest growing city in the mid ‘80s and it took a long time for our infrastructure to catch up. We’re in great shape now.”

Sherwood is a little larger with an estimated population of 23,149, up from 22,528. Cabot’s neighbors to the north along U.S. Highway 67-167, Austin and Ward, also in Lonoke County, and Beebe in White County are also growing.

The Census Bureau estimates the population of Austin has increased from 644 to 687, Ward from 3,022 to 3,271 and Beebe from 5,473 to 5,623.

Lonoke city gained 50 new residents between 2004 and 2005. Its population is estimated at 4,552.

Keeping up with the growth is a problem for Cabot which has raised water rates to finance a long-term water supply and extended a sales tax to pay for a new sewer plant. Now the council is considering an impact fee on new homes to help pay for some of the infrastructure.

Also in the works is a special census that will cost about $220,000 but could bring in an additional $375,000 a year in state tax revenue.

The actual population from the 2000 census was 15,261.

If the new estimates are correct, Cabot’s population has increased 5,778 in less than six years and the state pays $64.92 for each person.