Rural Arkansas and Inviting Russellville Draw Retirees Seeking A Peaceful Setting, Lake Recreation and an Appetite for Life's Simpler Pleasures
Cost of Living: Below the National Average
Tucked away in the lush rolling hills of west central Arkansas, Russellville (population 30,000) sits along the Arkansas River between the Ozark Mountains and the Ouachita Mountains. It is an unpretentious, amiable place that got its start in the 1820s. The town grew with the arrival of new infrastructure, including the railroad in the 1870s, Interstate 40 in the 1950s, a dam in the 1960s and a nuclear power plant in the 1970s. Today, Russellville is home to nearly a dozen Fortune 500 companies (Tyson, Firestone, etc.) and has been discovered as a great place to live and retire.
In fact, the population has grown by 6% within the last decade, and 33% of residents are age 45 or better. Most locals are politically conservative, and 25% have at least a four year college degree. Racial diversity is starting to take hold. The crime rate meets the national average, and the cost of living is 22% below the national average.
The median home price is $130,000, and a housing dollar goes a long way here. Cozy single family homes are available for less than $100,000, but inventory really opens up in the low- to mid-$100,000s. Homes in the $200,000s generally have three to five bedrooms, three baths, a large garage and maybe a pool. Homes in the $300,000s usually have acreage. Million dollar residences are not common.
When it comes to taxes, Arkansas is a great place to retire. Social Security is not taxed and up to $6,000 in military, civil and private pensions is exempt from taxes. When it comes to property taxes, homeowners age 65 or better may have the assessed value of their home capped at the previous year's taxable value unless improvements are made. The annual taxes on a $130,000 home are approximately $850. The state sales tax is 6.5% on non-food products. Food is taxed at just 1.5%. The income tax ranges from 1% to 7%.
The idyllic Arkansas River Valley where Russellville sits is gaining a reputation as a recreation oasis, making it difficult for even the most ardent homebody to stay inside. Neighboring 35,000-acre Lake Dardanelle and Lake Dardanelle State Park provide plenty of areas for camping, hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, boating, picnicking and bicycling. In fact, some of the top bicycling trails in Arkansas are here.
Russellville may be best known, though, for its bass fishing. Fishing tournaments are big business, attracting anglers from around the region. Golfers enjoy one private, country club golf course and two public courses just outside of town.
The downtown is small, authentic and populated with locally owned clothiers, banks and restaurants. Cultural amenities are not in great supply, but the Arkansas River Valley Arts Center promotes the arts through exhibits, classes and workshops. Its downtown Art Walk is held every first Friday and gives everyone the chance to enjoy live music, great food and art displays.
Perhaps the biggest event is the Pope County Fair, an event full of music, livestock auctions, fattening food and carnival rides. Russellville is also the site of Arkansas Tech University, a four-year public institution with 9,800 students and a good menu of athletic competitions, concerts and plays.
Russellville is off the beaten path, but the main drag through town has fast food outlets, mini-marts and grocery stores. Large retailers include Wal-Mart, Lowe's and J.C. Penney. There is no Whole Foods, but Country Cupboard has organic foods, and a community farmers' market happens Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. There is also a farm co-op. For more in-depth shopping, including shopping malls, Fort Smith (population 92,000) is 75 miles away and Little Rock (population 200,000) is 65 miles away.
The library, a branch of the Pope County Library System, dates from 1937 and was a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. It is not large but has been remodeled. It has downloadable books, a book club, a writers' group, a monthly movie night and a handful of public access computers.
St. Mary's Regional Medical Center, with 233 beds, is the primary health care facility and is accredited by the Joint Commission. It accepts Medicare patients. For military retirees, Russellville has a VA outpatient clinic, but the nearest VA hospital is in Little Rock.
The Pope County Senior Wellness and Activity Center is a branch of the Arkansas Division of Aging and Adult Services, which oversees all services and programs for more mature Arkansas residents. The Center offers an active social calendar, meals, tax assistance, trips to Las Vegas and more.
This part of the country has hot, humid summers with temperatures into the 90s. Winter temperatures are in the 20s and 30s. On average, the area receives 49 inches of rain and 3 inches of snow per year. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Russellville comes in below the national average. The sun shines 215 days of the year.
It should be mentioned that the nuclear power plant Arkansas Nuclear One, Arkansas' only nuclear power plant, is seven miles to the west of Russellville. The taxes it pays are what help keep Russellville's property taxes low. The National Regulatory Commission has calculated that the chances of an earthquake affecting the plant are one in 243,902, but the plant did have a "non-radiation" accident in 2013 that resulted in repairs. Residents seem to take the power plant in stride, noting that each year it donates more than $100,000 to local non-profit organizations and another $200,000 to Russellville community agencies.
For all the pluses that Russellville offers, it also has some drawbacks. The poverty rate is slightly above the national average, and the tornado risk is 165% above the national average. There is no public transportation.
So this quiet, down to earth place is not for everyone. Yet when the last flickers of light dance on the nearby mountaintops and the water shimmers under a star-lit sky, Russellville is hard to resist and seems just about perfect.
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