Mid-Columbia growth tops in state

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldJuly 11, 2013 

The Mid-Columbia continues to lead the state in population growth, new estimates say.

Franklin and Benton counties experienced the largest percentage increases of the state's 39 counties in the last year, at 2.79 percent and 1.89 percent respectively.

Franklin County added 2,300 people between April 1, 2012 and April 1 of this year, according to recently released estimates from the state Office of Financial Management. That brought the county's total population up to 84,800.

"It doesn't surprise me, we're a growth hotspot," Franklin County Commission Chairman Rick Miller said. "We're still growing, and I think we have the growing pains that come with it."

The Pasco School District is building three new elementary schools with the help of a $46.8 million bond to help meet the demands of a growing community. And the county is paying $16 million to expand its jail.

More people means more demand for services, Miller said, and creates other issues as well.

"I don't know if there are enough jobs to keep up with the population growth," he said.

Benton County added 3,400 residents over the past year, bringing its total population to 183,400.

Franklin and Benton counties also ranked one-two in percentage growth over the past three years, according to the state estimates. Franklin County added 6,637 residents between 2010 and 2013, which increased its population by 8.49 percent. Benton County, meanwhile, added 8,223 residents, or 4.69 percent.

Growing population is nothing new for the area. Franklin County led the state in percentage population increase between 2000 and 2010, jumping 58 percent to 78,163 residents from 49,347 in 2000, according to official U.S. Census statistics. Benton County increased its population by 23 percent over that period, to 175,177 from 142,475.

Individual cities in the two counties also are growing. Pasco saw the third-largest numerical spike between 2012 and 2013, at 2,930 new residents, the state estimate said. The city now has an estimated population of 65,600 people.

About half of those new city residents were part of the "doughnut hole" annexation that went into effect Jan. 1. However, if the annexation wasn't included, the city still would have been the fourth-fastest growing in Washington.

Based on percentage increase, Pasco was the ninth-fastest growing city in the state between 2012-13, at 4.68 percent.

Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield said the city has been working for 15 years to handle its growth. That includes park and traffic impact fees charged on new home construction, which go toward building new parks and improving roads.

The fees allow the city to plan for new arrivals before they are here, Crutchfield said.

"I think we've been accommodating it pretty well," he said.

Richland saw the ninth-largest numerical growth during the year, increasing its population by 1,260 people (11 of those were from annexation) to 51,150 residents. Kennewick was 10th-fastest at 1,250 new residents, to 76,410. West Richland was 23rd, growing by 510 people to 13,080.

West Richland was the only other area city to also appear in the top 25 in percentage growth -- 4.06 percent, making it the 12th fastest-growing.

"We've been a little surprised by it ourselves," West Richland Mayor Donna Noski said. "People do like the small-town atmosphere. A lot of families are coming to West Richland, and a lot of retirees are staying."

West Richland still lacks grocery stores and other businesses to serve the growing number of residents, Noski said, forcing them to go to stores along Queensgate Drive in Richland.

"I think it's still important that we have some of the amenities so people don't have to drive across town to get some of the things they need in their daily lives," she said.

State statistics for other area communities:

- Despite losing 1,454 residents to Pasco's annexation, unincorporated Franklin County only saw its population decrease to 13,160 residents from 13,820.

- Unincorporated Benton County increased to 33,710 from 33,330.

- Benton City dropped to 3,240 from 3,295.

- Prosser increased to 5,810 people from 5,785.

- Connell increased to 5,350 from 5,320.

- Mesa stayed at 495 people.

- Kahlotus held steady at 195 people.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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