We’re not liking what we see in the latest population estimates for Cochise County communities.
Thursday the U.S. Census Bureau released numbers showing the six cities in the county have fewer people than they did a decade ago, and Sierra Vista has fewer people than it did in 2019.
We are expected to get a more accurate count when the 2020 Census has been tabulated, sometime early next year, but it’s safe to say that federal estimates are usually not far off the mark. The Bureau counts births and deaths for every city and then factors in migration using information from the Internal Revenue Service to track who has moved in and who has moved out.
Sierra Vista’s population has dropped almost 3 percent since last year, according to the federal estimate. That’s a loss of roughly 1,300 people compared to the 2018 count of 44,420 residents.
The five other cities in Cochise County all recorded population increases compared to last year, but are still below the number of people counted in 2010. Most notable is Douglas, which is down 7.5 percent compared to a decade ago, but is estimated to have more people in 2019 than it did the prior year. Douglas now has about 16,233 residents, according to the Bureau’s estimate. Tombstone has also recorded a significant population drop since 2010, and like the remaining three other county cities — Bisbee, Benson and Willcox — there was a small increase in 2019 compared to 2018.
Why does this matter?
Some may consider this “loss” good news. Fewer people means it’s easier to find a parking spot at the grocery store, it should be faster getting a seat at their favorite restaurant and safer traveling local roads.
It’s not good news for your pocketbook or your public voice.
Paying for public services, especially at the county level, is easier when the cost can be spread over more property owners. Though not completely dependent on local population, more people paying sales tax generates more money to pay for city services. When the population drops, so does the revenue, and the cost of providing these public services stays the same or increases.
While the population in Cochise County appears to have gone down, several cities in Arizona are estimated to be among the fastest growing in the United States.
The consequence of that dynamic is less representation in state and federal government for our area. Representation is based on drawing legislative boundaries that include about the same number of people. To balance the growth in other parts of the state, the boundaries of the legislative and congressional districts in our area may need to be increased, meaning that our representatives in Congress and the State Legislature would represent a much larger area than is currently included.
We’re hopeful that efforts by City of Sierra Vista and Cochise County officials to boost tourism and attract new residents turn this situation around — sooner rather than later.