Janesville70.6°

Elkhorn population jumps nearly 40 percent

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March 11, 2011

— A convenient location, good schools and thoughtful planning drove up Elkhorn's population an astounding 38 percent during the past 10 years, from 7,305 to 10,084, the city's mayor said.

Elkhorn had the county's largest population increase of 2,779, according to U.S. Census figures released Thursday.

"I think population has gone up so much because we're close to the freeway where people can drive to Milwaukee, Chicago and Madison," Mayor Howie Reynolds said.

"We have real good schools, and we tried to plan (the city layout) well."

Reynolds said new housing areas are close to the city's central business district, giving residents "a sense of connection to Elkhorn."

Because Elkhorn is the county seat and home to the popular Walworth County Fair, it gets many visitors who look around town and decide to settle here, Reynolds said.

The lakes north and south of Elkhorn also attract new residents, he said.

Prior to the 2008 housing slump, the city was getting up to 250 requests for building permits annually. Eventually, the city had to limit permits to 200 a year to slow development and control growth, Reynolds said.

Controlling taxes also attracts residents, he said. For 2011, individual property taxes did not rise by more than $50, he said.

Walworth County's population grew 9 percent-from 93,759 to 102,228-between 2000 and 2010, according to census figures.

UW-Whitewater economics professor Russell Kashian said sprawl could cause the population of some of the smaller townships to grow.

The sprawl effect usually slows, and he said those townships likely would have their growth slow considerably over the coming years.

State law allows annexation of land in townships. In situations where cities report growth and neighboring townships lose residents, it could be the result of a land grab, he said.

Kashian said he didn't believe business or jobs had that much of an impact on population sizes. That might be more long term.

He said the "brain drain" in some communities would force out the younger population, and keep businesses from moving there.

In Rock County, Evansville grew 24.1 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to census data. The city went from 4,039 residents to 5,012.

Good schools, a low crime rate and easy commutes to Madison and Janesville were among the reasons, the city's mayor said.

The second-highest growth in Rock County was in Orfordville, which grew 13.4 percent to 1,442 residents. In third place was Union Township-which borders all edges of Evansville-with a 12.8-percent growth to 2,099 residents.

The 2010 Census data released Thursday for all municipalities in Wisconsin will tell the stories of how communities and their neighborhoods have changed in the last 10 years.

The city of Janesville hasn't grown much since 2008, but it did not experienced the drastic population decline some had predicted, City Manager Eric Levitt said.

The city has grown by 6.9 percent since 2000, according to the data released Thursday afternoon.

Janesville's population according to the 2010 count was 63,575.

"We expected some increase since 2000," Levitt said.

Many people predicted the city would lose residents after the General Motors plant ended SUV production in late 2008. The city's population estimate in 2008 was 64,000, Levitt said. That number was not census-based, he said.

"So, we've held steady since 2008," Levitt said.

Overall, Rock County's population increased 5.27 percent to a total of 160,331 people.

The bureau continues to release data on a state-by-state basis, according to a news release from the bureau. All states will have data by April 1, the release states.

Growth in Evansville, like everywhere else, has been slow the last few years because of the economy. But in the first part of the 2000s, "things were really hopping here," Mayor Sandy Decker said.

Permits for new single-family homes hit the lowest point in 2008 with only eight, she said, with 10 and 11 in the last two years. But in 2003, 48 permits for new single-family homes were issued, with 70 and 60 in the following two years, she said.

Decker said she's heard from new residents who moved to the city because of its location between Madison and Janesville. The city's smart growth plan found about 50 percent of the city's working residents commute to Madison.

"We've also done a lot of community improvements in the last decade and infrastructure improvements. I think it's a number of things," she said regarding the population increase.

The city's growth has meant increases in services such as adding a police officer, and the school district reached a point of near capacity in some areas, but the economic slow-down has given the district a bit of breathing room, she said.

"I am anticipating as the economy picks up, we might be seeing our growth rate pick up again," she said.

- Reporters Gina Duwe, Kevin Hoffman and Ann Marie Ames contributed to this story.



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