Faulkner County is growing rapidly. Various indicators are useful to show growth. The ultimate drivers of growth in economic activity are population growth and technical progress. Without population growth areas decline. What better evidence in Arkansas is the population declines in eastern Arkansas Delta counties and, closer to us, the population decline in Jefferson County.

Technological progress, i.e. innovation, does not focus on small geographical areas. Rather, innovation occurs and spreads throughout the nation. Local areas can boost their growth by rapidly adopting technology centers and other hubs that compliment and expand the original innovations.

The following graph shows population growth rates for the State, County and selected cities from 2010 – 2017. The growth rates for the County and State are thru 2018 The population estimates for the cities in 2018 will be released in July.

Population growth in Wooster is on a tear. Population growth in Faulkner County is three times the growth rate for the State.

Additional measures for the County’s growth are available. Between 2012 and 2017, the value of assessed real property in AR increased 11.9% while Faulkner County’s increased by 14.1%. Between 2009 and 2018, State sales tax collections increased by 23.7% while the County’s increased by 26.4%. Other selective economic indicators confirm that the County is growing faster than the State.

CONSEQUENCES:

Growth of the cities and County result in a need to increase the infrastructure necessary to maintain the same level of services and expand to meet the growth. More public safety officers are needed for patrol, included the necessary vehicles, uniforms and personal equipment. More refuse is collected by the sanitation department, more dogs and cats are collected and dropped off at the animal shelter, more water is metered to the new connections, more non-profits offer selective services to needy segments of our population, roads and roundabouts are added to reduce travel time, church membership increases, and new houses of worship are constructed, and new schools are added. The list of the consequences of growth is long.

Some of the specific consequences of growth for the County are a need to add animal control services, to expand our County jail, to maintain the 911 emergency call center and to address the status of the County’s court house.

The Quorum Court spent eight years wrestling with animal control. Extensive public hearings aired all the issues and their interdependencies. A few months ago, the Court decided to fund a spay and neuter program but failed to address the comprehensive animal control issue.

Monthly data reveals that the County jail is and has been at its inmate capacity. The reason the jail is occupied at its capacity is that there is insufficient space available in State prisons. Until space is available in the State prisons, State law requires the prisoners be housed in the county jails. If adequate space were available in State prisons, then our County jail would not need expanding.

The 911 system enhances the public’s safety.

The Court House on Locust street is an ancient structure with historical significance. It houses the County Clerk’s office, voter registration and other support offices. Its age is costly, requiring significant maintenance of its heat and air conditional systems and its roof.

MEETING THE EXPANDED NEEDS

If our County community wishes to respond to continued growth and continue to prosper, then it must devise a financing plan. This is not a trivial issue, because the financial needs exceed the traditional sources of the County’s revenue. The ½ cent County sales tax is earmarked 50 – 50 for County roads and criminal justice. This revenue is inadequate to support the financing of the additional needs of the County. Faulkner County’s government is financed by the 4.5 mills levied on real and personal property. The average growth in net property tax revenue is only $322,000 per year.

THE CHALLENGE AHEAD

Population and economic growth have financial consequences to meet the expanded needs of our community. The traditional source of revenues (the property tax) is inadequate.

So, Faulkner County residents may consider funding the additional needs of the County resulting from growth by considering additional source(s) of revenue.

Notes: (1) Contact information for a resident’s JP is http://www.faulknercounty.org/quorum-court

(2) Part 2 will expand the discussion about the growing needs of the County.

Pickett is an emeritus professor of economics at UALR and is the JP for District 11. He may be contacted at pickett@conwaycorp.net.