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West Side Surpasses East Valley in Growth

West Side Surpasses East Valley in Growth

6/28/2006

The West Valley clearly has overtaken the eastern part of Maricopa County as the supergrowth region of the Valley, mid-decade census figures show. Growth in the eastern suburbs of Phoenix was far from anemic, but a greater number of people flocked to west-side communities at a pace that pushed the area’s population 50 percent higher in just 5 1/2 years.

The survey, conducted only in Maricopa County, is an official update of population figures from 2000. It will be the basis for distribution of about $1.7 billion in state funds annually over the next five years.

A city’s share of that fortune rises or falls depending on its population change relative to other cities. A municipality receives $300 to $400 a year per capita.

West Valley officials, delighted to have confirmation that they deserve a much larger share of state revenue, heaved a figurative “I told ya so,” given evidence that they are growing even faster than otherwise estimated by state and federal agencies.

“This tells us how many people we have to watch out for,” said Joan Shafer, mayor of Surprise, which nearly tripled in population to more than 88,000.

“It tells us how many police and fire employees we need,” Shafer added. Even the latest population figure, dated Sept. 1, probably is 2,000 shy of today’s population, she said.

East-side communities added nearly 215,000 people since 2000, but in the West Valley, where the total population is only half as large, cities added 218,000.

In Phoenix, 1,475,834 residents were counted, an increase of about 155,000, or nearly 12 percent, from 2000.

On the county level, the growth of more than 628,000 to a total of 3,700,516 was about as expected, Deputy Budget Director Christopher Bradley said.

The 20.5 percent growth rate is evidence of a strong economy, Bradley said, but strains the county to provide more services.

The county’s share of state revenue will be about $490 million in the coming fiscal year.

Five of 10 cities to the west of Phoenix doubled, tripled or, in the case of El Mirage, more than quadrupled in population.

“West Valley cities are growing so fast, we all share the need for improved transportation,” El Mirage City Manager BJ Cornwall said. “We’ll be able to use the funds to revamp our roads in need, like Dysart.”

Buckeye, three times its population in 2000, had been looking for a count several thousand higher than the final figure of nearly 25,000, spokesman Bob Bushner said.

The other hypergrowth cities in the West Valley were Goodyear, at 144 percent, and Youngtown, with 105 percent growth.

Meanwhile, to the east, Queen Creek was the only community in that league. The city, which extends into Pinal County, exploded with nearly threefold growth, to about 16,000, in the portion within Maricopa County.

Queen Creek Council member Jon Wootten said he wasn’t shocked by the astronomical increase and thinks it is even understated.

Patrick Flynn, a financial consultant for the town, said town officials believe they are at or above 20,000 based on numbers provided by the postal authorities.

Gilbert, Chandler and Mesa ended up with official counts below previous estimates.

Hardest hit was Gilbert, where the count was almost 5,000 lower than earlier estimates. The town, having grown 58 percent, to 173,000 people, remains one of the five fastest-growing large communities in the country.

“It’s still a little lower than what we think Gilbert is, but I think it’s a number that we can live with,” Town Manager George Pettit said.

Pettit said the town took a conservative approach in crafting next year’s budget to avoid any major surprises. The town received about $22 million in state-shared revenues for 2005-06, and Pettit said $35 million is expected in 2006-07.

Chandler planner Hank Pluster said he thinks the official figure, just below 231,000, is too low.

The state’s estimates had been about 1,000 higher, and the city’s own calculation was about 8,000 higher.

Pluster said it is uncertain how much, if anything, Chandler stands to lose in revenue.

Mesa also came in about 4,000 below estimates, but that represented less than 1 percent of the city’s total population, which topped 448,000.

Mesa solidified its spot as the nation’s 40th-largest city after officials pointed out that census surveyors had missed thousands of housing units in preliminary figures.

Up to $6 million in additional state-shared revenue was on the line, a source of funds vital to Mesa because it does not rely on a property tax to balance budgets.

“I’m pleased with the final numbers, given where we started from,” said Jim Huling, assistant to Mesa’s city manager.

Although many of the annual estimates from the Census Bureau and state Department of Economic Security come close to the survey’s findings, improving the reliability of the estimates at an affordable cost has long vexed demographers.

“DES does what it can with the data available, but that’s fairly limited,” said Tom Rex, an Arizona State University business and economy researcher. “The problem is, no one is out there counting the people, because that would be too expensive.”

Gov. Janet Napolitano appointed a task force this year to look into ways accuracy could be improved without undue expense.

Rex said overestimates commonly occur because they rely heavily on housing data.

The Valley has many empty homes because of real estate speculation and because the owners live elsewhere and use them only as second homes.

By Jon Kamman, The Arizona Republic, June 28, 2006

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