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Census: Eau Claire County ranks in top 10 in state population growth

West-central Wisconsin had four of Wisconsin’s 10 fastest-growing counties in 2018.

New population estimates released recently by the U.S. Census Bureau show that Pierce County ranked No. 2, St. Croix No. 3, Dunn No. 7 and Eau Claire No. 9 in rate of growth among Wisconsin’s 72 counties from 2017 to 2018. The numbers continue a long-term trend of strong population growth along the Interstate 94 corridor between Eau Claire and the Twin Cities in Minnesota.

During that time period, the population of Pierce County grew 1.4% to 42,555, while St. Croix rose 1.2% to 89,694, Dunn climbed 1% to 45,131 and Eau Claire gained 0.8% to 104,534. The numbers indicate Eau Claire County is the state’s 14th largest county.

St. Croix and Eau Claire counties ranked in the top 10 for numerical population growth as well. The estimated 1,087 people added in St. Croix County ranked fifth in the state, and the 860 added in Eau Claire County was sixth.

The robust growth is good news for Eau Claire County, said Rod Eslinger, the county’s planning and development director.

“When we have population growth, we know that means we have a healthy economy,” Eslinger said, noting that the growth likely has been stronger in the cities of Eau Claire and Altoona and the urban surrounding towns than in more rural parts of the county.

Eslinger said many people are attracted to the amenities of Eau Claire and Altoona, as well as the many parks and waterways in those cities and the rest of the county.

“There’s a lot that Eau Claire has to offer and be attracted to. It’s just a nice community to live in,” he said. “It gives people a chance to live and work in a relatively low-crime area while still benefiting from a low unemployment rate and enjoying the redevelopment of downtown and the cultural scene that’s happening here.”

Dane County topped all counties by adding 5,584 people, more than double the gain of any other state county, from 2017 to 2018.

Rusk County, which lost an estimated 32 residents for a population decline of 0.2%, was the only west-central Wisconsin county to lose population in 2018, the report shows.

Overall, Wisconsin gained an estimated 21,517 residents last year, growing at 0.4%, to reach a population of about 5.81 million, keeping it the nation’s 20th most populous state.

Since the last full census in 2010, Eau Claire County added 5,655 residents, the fifth-largest numerical gain and sixth-fastest growth rate, at 5.7%, in the state, the census figures show.

St. Croix County added 5,347 people to rank No. 6 for population gain and its 6.3% growth rate ranked No. 3. Pierce County’s 3.7% growth rate was the seventh fastest among Wisconsin counties.

Regional counties among the 33 statewide losing population since the beginning of the decade were: Rusk, down 607, or 4.1%; Buffalo, down 462, or 3.4%; Pepin, down 180, or 2.4%; and Barron, down 703, or 1.5%.


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Some see less funding as CDBG grants fall

The city’s focus on affordable housing and a decrease in federal grant money for low-income causes means some organizations that usually rely on those funds may not get them this year.

A program run by Western Dairyland Community Action Agency that aids budding entrepreneurs with their start-up businesses got $5,800 in federal grants through the city in 2018, but that’s proposed to drop to $0 this year.

“I totally see the need in this community to address affordable housing, but we also need to look at housing becoming affordable through self-employment,” said Karman Briggs, who runs the local organization’s business center.

The cut in funding will mean fewer one-on-one work with entrepreneurs who are usually from lower income households and fewer scholarships that give discounts for those people to attend the business center’s events, she said.

Briggs also noted the grant money provided through the city had been matched by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“Even that $6,000 is basically doubled by the match from the SBA,” she said.

Briggs spoke during Monday night’s public hearing in front of the Eau Claire City Council on the proposed budget for nearly $850,000 that will be provided to the city this year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That funding comes through the Community Development Block Grant and HOME programs, which are both intended to serve lower income areas.

The council reviewed the city’s proposed budget for the 2019 funding and will vote on it at a May 28 meeting.

Keith Johnathan, manager of the city’s housing division, noted that the city had gotten $963,460 from the programs in 2018.

“Our overall funding has been cut by $113,731 from last year,” he said.

This year the selection committee that reviewed proposals from outside agencies, businesses, organizations and city departments gave preference to programs tied to affordable housing — a topic the City Council has given a lot of attention to in the past year.

“The mandate we worked under was to promote affordable housing,” Johnathan said.

Councilman Andrew Werthmann asked why a community liaison position at the Eau Claire Hmong Mutual Assistance Association that had gotten $11,000 is only slated to receive $4,600 this year.

“Because it didn’t meet the criteria for affordable housing, the question came up whether or not to fund that under this grant,” Johnathan replied. “The committee decided to fund it at a smaller amount.”

Literacy Chippewa Valley had gotten $8,400 last year to provide education to jail inmates so they had skills to get a job upon their release, but that is cut down to $0 in this year’s proposed CDBG budget.

Four neighborhood associations sought money — most asking for $200 — to pay for brochures, fliers and other efforts to reach members. Those requests also were denied.

Several housing-related efforts saw increases.

A city program that buys and renovates homes in need of repair to make them affordable rentals that low- to moderate-income tenants can later buy with a bank loan is set to get its funding raised. Receiving $102,000 last year, that home ownership program is set to get $163,100 this year.

Local credit union RCU’s down payment assistance program, which pays closing costs for home buyers who meet income-eligibility requirements, is slated to get its CDBG allocation raised from last year’s $24,500 to $30,000 this year.

Some temporary housing programs and shelters also have funding increases proposed.

A Western Dairyland program that provides short-term housing assistance is slated to get a funding hike — going from $5,800 last year to $9,400 in the 2019 funding proposal.

Beacon House, a downtown Eau Claire family shelter run by Family Promise of the Chippewa Valley, will get $1,400 more this year over the $10,000 it got through last year’s CDBG funding.

Kelly Christianson, executive director of Family Promise of the Chippewa Valley, linked the need for transitional housing to the area’s affordable housing crunch.

She noted that the average length of stay at Beacon House had gotten down to 43 days but rose last year to 53 because families had a tougher time finding a new home. With evictions on some clients’ records, Christianson said it’s hard for them to get an apartment in a tight rental market when landlords have their pick from many applicants.

“A few years ago money talked,” she said. “Now four months of rent up front is not getting our families where they need to be.”


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Madison police seek to limit number of late-night bars

MADISON (AP) — Madison police want to reduce fights and criminal activity at campus-area bars by limiting the number of establishments that allow customers in after 1:30 a.m.

City police last year restricted seven bars near the University of Wisconsin from letting people in after 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Madison officials are considering requiring nine other establishments to follow the same rule, starting July 1.

Police Capt. Jason Freedman said the no-late-entry policy was implemented following an increase in police calls to downtown in recent years.

Freedman said the area near campus has started seeing more non-college residents, some of whom are gang-affiliated or armed.

“Thus we have our longtime baseline of violence and issues associated with students plus newcomers who are committing violent acts,” he said.

Police are pushing to expand the policy after seeing its success in discouraging trouble, Freedman said.

Alderman Mike Verveer, who represents the core downtown area, said the condition has been met with grudging acceptance by the bars where it was imposed last year.

The city’s Alcohol License Review Committee is also looking to revoke or refuse to renew the liquor license held by Madison’s only strip club, Visions Night Club.

The site has drawn criminal activity in recent years, including a shooting that injured five people last December.