Are we growing too fast?
Nevada is growing rapidly, and Douglas County is growing right along with it. Some say it may be too fast.
Preliminary population estimates released by the State Demographer’s Office establish Douglas County’s population at 39,590, up 5.6 percent from the previous year. Nevada’s population is more than 1.7 million, a 5.5 percent increase.
County Commission Chair Jacques Etchegoyhen said he feels the 5.6 growth rate, if the estimate is correct, is too high. A 1- to 2-percent growth rate is considered healthy, Etchegoyhen said, but a rate above 3 percent is too high.
“My gut feeling is that I wish we had 2 or 3 percent growth, not 5.6,” Etchegoyhen said. “That is a phenomenal growth rate.”
Except for a large jump in 1994, the latest estimate shows the highest population increase in recent years. Etchegoyhen said he was somewhat surprised the number was that high, saying it had seemed like growth had slowed.
The population estimates are based on July 1 from year to year. According to the report from the demographer’s office, Douglas County’s population in July 1996 was 37,480 , a 4.5 percent increase from the year before, and in July 1995 it was 35,880, a 3.6 percent increase.
The problem with such a fast rate, Etchegoyhen said, is that it is very hard to plan for the growth.
“You can’t plan ahead. At that rate, you can’t put infrastructure in the ground fast enough,” he said, “and it’s nearly impossible to pay for.”
And one of the major infrastructure problems will be water. Etchegoyhen said the area doesn’t have enough water to sustain the kind of population a 5.6 growth rate would bring.
The rapid growth comes mostly from people moving to Douglas County, not from people being born here.
Rick Kester, director of business services for Douglas County School District, said the number of students in the county schools have not grown at comparable amounts to the county’s growth.
In 1993, Douglas County schools had an increased student enrollment by 8.5 percent; in 1994, the rate was 5.8 percent; in 1995, 5 percent; 1996, less than 1 percent; 1997, 0 percent. Kester said the last time the schools experienced no growth prior to this was 1984.
Etchegoyhen said it speaks well for Douglas County that people choose to move here. People who could go anywhere choose Douglas County.
“It’s a nice place,” Etchegoyhen said. “I always say, ‘If I didn’t live here, I’d move here.'”
Controlling growth is difficult, Etchegoyhen said, especially while trying to keep the county as such a desirable place to live. Carson City has implemented a system for controlling growth which has worked well. Carson City officials limit housing growth while encouraging business growth. Etchegoyhen said, under Nevada’s tax structure, that kind of formula works well in controlling growth and keeping the growth healthy.
Carson City grew to a population of 50,410 as of July, according to the state demographer’s report, a 3.2 percent change from the year before.
Executive Director of the Northern Nevada Development Authority Kris Holt said he was unsure of the report’s validity, but said a growth rate of 5.6 percent was probably too fast for a community’s vitality.
“A stagnant community is bad news all the way,” Holt said. “Growth is healthy, but that may be a little too fast-paced. Three seems to be a real healthy number.”
Holt said, whether or not the numbers were accurate, he didn’t feel the growth was anything to be too concerned about.
“I don’t think it’s anything to panic over,” he said. “I think it’s something to watch, but I don’t think it’s anything to panic about.”
Holt estimated Douglas County would reach a population of 50,000 by 2010.
While the county is growing quickly, Etchegoyhen and Holt recognize, and the demographer’s report illustrates, that Nevada as a whole is experiencing the same kind of growth.
The report from the State Demographer’s Office shows only one county in Nevada, Esmeralda, which experienced a decline in population last year. Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, grew at a rate of 6.8 percent. Lander County, with a population of 7,030, grew at a rate of 9.7 percent; and Nye County, 27,460, grew 8.8 percent. Washoe County grew 1.5 percent, the city of Reno grew 4.9 percent and Sparks grew 0 percent.
If the current growth rate continues, Nevada could reach 2 million people by 1999.
While Nevada is growing at a rate of 5.5 percent, Etchegoyhen said the United States is growing at rate of 1 percent.
The numbers on the recent demographer’s report are only preliminary, and cities and counties have until mid-December to file protests. Final estimates will be certified by the end of February by Gov. Bob Miller. The estimates are used by the Department of Taxation, to determine the amount of cigarette, liquor, sales and other taxes distributed to cities and counties.