Sun, Aug. 18

Arizona ranks well in list of best towns

PHOENIX -- A new report gives some small Arizona communities bragging rights -- at least over some others.

WalletHub looked at 1,268 smaller cities and towns across the nation to determine which are the best and the worst places to live.

Of course, a lot of that is subjective. It depends on what's important to you.

Consider: The financial advice web site rates Prescott the fourth best place in the state to live. That's despite being marked down -- at least by WalletHub standards -- for having one of the slower population growth rates in the entire country.

And Prescott scored below average for income growth between 2009 and 2013.

So what helped boost its rankings?

Bars. Lots of them. More per resident than any other Arizona community studied. And, in fact, in the Top 100 nationwide.

Queen Creek, by contrast, was listed as the top small community in the state largely by virtue of its fast population growth. But living there has some downsides, including what WalletHub says is among the highest commute time.

Florence excelled in housing affordability, a ranking computed using the median annual household income against the median prices to own and rent. It also had a low overall cost of living.

And then there was the fact that its population grew even faster than Queen Creek.

Each community had something going for it by WalletHub standards -- and something that some might say makes it not the best place to live.

Sun City, for example, had a rate of home ownership in the Top 100 nationwide. But it had relatively few bars, restaurants and even fitness centers.

And, not surprisingly given its 55-plus age restriction, WalletHub found only one community in the entire country with a smaller percentage of its new residents being millennials: The Villages in Florida.

At the other extreme: Florence was third in the nation in terms of millennial growth.

In Flagstaff, the rate of home ownership was very low. But getting to work each day was very quick -- though not as quick as Sierra Vista.

Near the other end of the scale, Marana residents had among the longer commute times, both among Arizonans and residents of other small cities nationwide. But it scored well when WalletHub looked at both population and income growth.

And Marana had the lowest percentage of residents below the poverty line of any Arizona community.

Oro Valley, down the road, ranked lower due to slow population growth and a relative scarcity of restaurants. But it picked up points for having a higher percentage of its residents with a bachelor's degree than other small Arizona communities.

Sahuarita also got points for its rapid population growth. But WalletHub found only three communities of its size in the entire nation where income growth was slower.

Lake Havasu City boasted a low commute time and a relatively high number of restaurants and bars. But its ratings were dragged down due to slow population and income growth along with a relatively few of residents with a bachelor's degree.

High commute times dinged Maricopa along with its paucity of bars and restaurants. And its rapid population growth and high home ownership rates were insufficient to offset those.

So, using WalletHub's ranking system, what are the best small towns and cities in which to live?

Princeton, N.J., by virtue of its booming economy and education rankings. That's followed by Littleton, Colo.; Dublin, Ohio and Brookfield, Wis.

At the other extreme are a host of California communities including Bell Park, Huntington Park, Bell Gardens and Compton.