It’s no secret that Yakima County, with its proliferation of low-wage, agriculture-oriented jobs, continually struggles to catch up with the rest of the state economically. That said, key indicators point to slow yet sustained growth in Yakima County — overall good news, but not without its flip side.
Among the trends: Recent monthly unemployment figures show both increases and decreases in the year-over-year rates but a steady increase of individuals in the county’s work force —about 3 percent year-over-year in each of the past two months. Annual population estimates show gradual growth. The Milken Institute, a nonprofit group that tracks economic trends, last year placed Yakima in the top quarter of best performing cities, citing growth in agriculture, health services and wine tourism.
And now, the figures point to a homebuilding burst after a bust inflicted by the national economic recession. The number of single-family home permits in Yakima jumped 46 percent from 2014 to 2015, and the number for last year is up 84 percent from 2011, during the depths of the recession.
Much of the housing growth comes where there is open land that is relatively close to city services, and that means West Valley. Enrollment in the West Valley School District testifies to that growth – this school year the number is nearing 5,000, a 4.8 percent increase from four years ago.
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While an enrollment increase beats the alternative — aka, fewer students — it does pose a challenge in a district where voters last year rejected a bond issue to replace two elementary schools and expand the junior high school. Superintendent Mike Brophy has launched a six-week online program that encourages parents to voice their views on a range of school issues, including how to accommodate growth.
Schools aren’t the only public entity that must deal with an influx of people. Growth also forces city and county governments to develop plans for roads, sidewalks, parks, water and sewer lines, among other services. Residents are best served when governments take pro-active steps that ease the growing pains.
The West Valley School District is trying to do that as it ponders how to accommodate new students in a way that is palatable to taxpayers. Expect the district eventually to float a new bond issue, one that will warrant serious consideration by the voters.
Growth brings benefits, but with them come costs. More people mean more economic and social vitality, but they also mean more competition for space in our schools, roads and open spaces, and more demand for services. Municipal and state governments, school districts and citizens need to keep in mind the public investments needed to accommodate the latest influx of people.