By Michael Zogg
Lake Havasu City will continue to be classified as a metropolitan area for at least another 10 years.
Havasu was officially considered a metropolitan statistical area in 2010 when the city surpassed a total population of 50,000. That population threshold has been in place since 1950, but it is revisited every 10 years by the Office of Management and Budget when it updates its standards for delineating such statistical areas. After completing its once-per-decade review OMB announced on Tuesday that it will continue to use 50,000 as the minimum threshold.
The Office of Management and Budget says its standards are intended for statistical purposes only, to ensure federal agencies that track statistics such as unemployment or GDP all classify and group geographical areas in the same fashion. But those delineations have real-world effects beyond simple statistical delineations and can affect a city’s eligibility for certain grant funding or the amount of money it is eligible to receive.
During the review process this year, the Metropolitan Statistical Area Standards review Committee considered doubling the minimum threshold to be considered metropolitan to 100,000. That would have removed 144 of the 392 U.S. cities that are currently considered to be metros from the list. Four of those areas are in Arizona – Lake Havasu City-Kingman, Prescott-Prescott Valley, Flagstaff, and Sierra Vista-Douglas.
“It could have had potential funding impacts for the Lake Havasu City-Kingman area,” said Assistant to the City Manager Anthony Kozlowski.
Statisticians who recommended changing the definition of a metro area say it is long overdue, given that the country’s population has more than doubled since the 50,000-person threshold was instituted back in 1950. At that time about half of U.S. residents lived in metros but now 86% do.
But the proposal to raise the threshold received significant pushback, particularly from the 144 cities that would lose their metropolitan designation. Opponents largely cited real-world implications that the changes would have to the area’s potential to obtain grant money.
On such example is Community Development Block Grants, which are handled differently for metropolitan cities than smaller cities and towns. Another example is the federal grant money Havasu recently started receiving for its transportation system that is in the process of kicking off over the next few months. Federal money for transportation is also available to smaller communities, and was used by the previous Havasu Area Transit system prior to the city reaching a 50,000 population, but smaller communities go through a separate process to receive those funds.
Kozlowski said the city was in contact with Arizona’s Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly to discuss their concerns about any potential changes. In mid-March Sinema and Kelly signed a letter to the Office of Management and Budget opposing the changes, along with Republican Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven of North Dakota, Cynthis Lummis of Wyoming and Deb Fischer of Nebraska. Republican Reps. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota and Adrian Smith of Nebraska also signed onto the letter.
“This was the right decision for Arizona and I am glad the administration listened to our request,” Sinema said of Tuesday’s announcement. “Maintaining the current threshold will protect access to critical federal services and programs for Lake Havasu City and communities across Arizona.”
Kelly said he has been urging the Biden administration to keep the threshold the same for months.
“I am proud that, at my urging, the administration has made a decision that will ensure Arizona communities continue to receive their fair share of federal dollars, especially as we continue to recover from this pandemic,” Kelly said.
Arizona District 4 Rep. Paul Gosar’s office told Today’s News-Herald back in March that it had also contacted OMB to express its disapproval of the proposed changes – saying Gosar believes raising the threshold to 100,000 would be “arbitrary and capricious.” The Lake Havasu City–Kingman and the Prescott-Prescott Valley areas are both in Gosar’s district.
In its press release announcing that it will continue to use the 50,000 population threshold, OMB acknowledged the Standards Review Committee’s concern that MSA thresholds have not kept pace with population growth over the years. It promises to work with the committee to conduct research and stakeholder outreach on the topic that will be considered during the 2030 standards update.