In a region where overall population trends on both sides of the Ohio River are flat or negative, one county stands out.

According to the newly released Census figures, Warrick County grew from 59,689 residents in 2010 to 63,898 in 2020, a 7.1% jump. By comparison, Vanderburgh County’s gain was 0.2% and other counties closest to Vanderburgh have actually lost people.

Population growth is usually viewed as a positive sign for a community, but it also means more demand for public services. John H. Castle Elementary, just north of Newburgh, holds more than twice as many students as the average elementary in the United States, and staffing in the sheriff's department hasn't kept pace with the number of new residents. 

Warrick’s boom is most visible in its southern end,  where the Indiana 66 commercial corridor continues to fill up. The county's western edge off I-69, which is already lined with Deaconess and Ascension St. Vincent facilities, will have a new indoor sports complex in the next few years.

Newburgh’s cozy downtown is a popular place to bike, walk, browse small businesses and gaze at the Ohio River.

More on the 2020 Census:See a larger map and more information on the 2020 Census data here

Then there’s the new housing, waves of it. An ongoing construction spree is happening just outside Newburgh, where schools at all grade levels are crowded.

Jagoe Homes, which has already built many homes nearby, announced it’s starting another subdivision. Essex at Berkshire, off Oak Grove and Vann roads, will have 130 sites when fully developed.

Price points aren’t set, but Essex at Berkshire will target first-time homebuyers and those looking to downsize, said Chip Dormeier, vice president of marketing with Owensboro, Kentucky-based Jagoe.

Other Jagoe subdivisions under construction in the same area — Turnberry and Waterside — cater to more upscale homebuyers.

Boonville is growing, too. The Warrick County seat’s population jumped from 6,246 in 2010 to 6,712 in 2020, an increase of 7.5%.

Natives have witnessed Warrick County’s transition from a rural community to a place of rapid, eastward urban sprawl from Evansville, a smaller-scale version of what has happened in communities such as Fishers and Carmel north of Indianapolis.

“What I remember as a child is that (Indiana) 66, all this area, it was nothing but fields,” said Sarah Redman, Warrick County assessor. “Now, it’s subdivisions and medical facilities. I don’t think it’s going to slow down and any time soon.”

Redman said even though building costs have increased, new construction permits continue to come through her office.

That’s because there’s a lot to like about Warrick County, she and other residents say.

Melinda Mitchell runs a Facebook page, called Hometown Newburgh, with 6,000 members. True to that name, she said the community’s draw is its “hometown” feel.

She said that’s why many natives choose to stay, and why many others want to move in.

“People want to be connected,” Mitchell said. “They don’t want to feel out there by themselves. I feel like we have that community connection, or at least that’s what people are wanting and needing in their lives, that (larger) cities don’t have. We’re very welcoming. It doesn’t matter if they are from another country or moving from Evansville. We welcome them and want them here, their influence and input.”

Warrick County remains overwhelmingly white. Racial and ethnic diversity in Warrick is well below that of neighboring Vanderburgh County, but it is increasing.

Black population in Warrick grew from 1.3% to 1.7% between 2010 and 2020. Those identifying as having two or more races jumped from 1.3% to 4.4%. Asian population increased from 1.6% to 2.6%, while residents of Hispanic heritage went from 1.6% to 2.2%.

Median household income in Warrick is over $73,000, while Vanderburgh's is just below $50,000.

'Fabulous' Castle schools packed

A major factor behind Warrick County's growth is the perception that it has good schools.

Dormeier, the Jagoe Homes official, said homebuyers in southern Warrick County are interested in nearby amenities such as Vann Park and Victoria National Golf Club,  but the biggest selling point is the presence of Castle High School and its feeder schools.

Castle, with nearly 1,900 students, is the largest high school in Southwest Indiana. In the Tri-state, only Henderson County High School is larger.

John H. Castle Elementary School has about 950 children in kindergarten through fifth grade.

"The school system is fabulous," said Mitchell, a Castle graduate.

Todd Lambert, in his first year as Warrick County School Corp. superintendent, said population growth is a positive for the school district and community.

"At the end of the day, we are excited people are coming to Warrick County for the amenities, the schools and the way of life," Lambert said. "It’s better to see growth than to go the other way."

It does mean the school district needs to do long-term planning, he said.

No new school construction is imminent in Warrick County, although Lambert didn't rule it out in the future.

"We’re well aware of the growth and the position we’re in," Lambert said. "We’re not in a position where we anticipate building anything new the next two years. But we’re paying attention to where the growth is occurring.

"Our solutions are going to be geared toward, do we need to do any boundary shifting? Other schools are not as crowded, or under capacity. Sometimes the solution is to balance what you have, rather than take on the expensive endeavor of building another school. But our time is coming."

Law enforcement stretched

Crowded schools are one example of what could be called growing pains in Warrick County. Public safety is another. Warrick isn't known for frequent violent crime, but there's a need for law enforcement services, and resources are stretched.

The Warrick County Council voted recently to double the county's income tax rate from 0.5% to 1%. (By comparison, Vanderburgh County's rate is 1.2%) All revenue from Warrick's increase will go toward public safety, said Ron Bacon, a County Council member and former state representative.

Even with the population growth, revenues available for public safety in Warrick County have been essentially flat for many years. Bacon said that's because the county can't raise any more property tax revenue due to state-imposed caps.

Warrick had the lowest income tax rate among Indiana's 92 counties before deciding to raise it, Bacon said. "We’ll be somewhere in the mid-80s even with the increase."

Sheriff Michael Wilder said his office's motor patrol division has not grown for 20 years, even though Warrick County's population has soared during that time.

Sheriff's deputies are responsible for law enforcement services in unincorporated areas of Warrick County, where some of the heaviest growth is occurring. 

"The department itself has grown a little, but the new officers have gone to school resources or the detective division," Wilder said. "As time has gone on, as the county has grown, not only residential but the business corridor along 66, our call volume has gone up and it's very difficult to have enough deputies to respond."

On a day shift or second shift, the sheriff's office typically has six deputies scheduled to work, but Wilder said due to vacations or illness, it's sometimes just four or five.

A significant vehicle crash requires more than one deputy to clear the scene and direct traffic, Wilder said. "At the same time, we might have an inmate in the hospital, and because we are over the jail, we have to sit with them."

"And that was the situation pre-COVID," Wilder said. "With officers having to quarantine and different things, it's been a challenge." 

He has plans for how the new public safety revenue will be spent. In year one, the sheriff's office intends to hire eight new deputy positions. Wilder will assign one to training activities and the rest to patrol.

Warrick County's dispatch center will get help, too, enabling it to have three dispatchers on duty at all times. Wilder said that's a need, because multiple calls often are made from one crash scene, and when that happens, someone still has to be available to answer other calls.

The sheriff also plans to hire two new jail deputies.

All these moves are driven by population growth. "We're not getting ahead of the game," Wilder said, "but we're getting to where we need to be."

How much growth is too much? Mitchell said that's a hard question to answer, but it's something she and her Hometown Newburgh Facebook group think about from time to time.

"The growth does scare a lot of us long-term residents," Mitchell said. "We always feel we are going to lose that community feel if we're connected with Evansville, and that row of medical facilities seems to be getting closer.

"The more growth occurs, the more a community can lose that. But as long as the citizens keep wanting and striving for that small town type of connection, I think it will always remain."

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