Originally created 08/28/00

Growth leads to more work



Jim Leiper has an easy way to deal with Columbia County's population explosion: aspirin.

"As time has gone by here, when you are not providing some basic services people expect, there are more and more concerns expressed by people about the county doing things people need," said Mr. Leiper, a Columbia County engineer.

And 100,000 people is more than enough to give someone a headache.

Although officials are awaiting census results, they say the county's population will reach 100,000. That puts Columbia County in elite company: one of about 15 Georgia counties with population of more than 100,000.

But it means little else: no special grants, no larger dot on state maps, no grand parades.

Maybe just a few more aspirin.

The county's population in 2003 will be 104,500, according to estimates in The Georgia County Guide, a University of Georgia publication listing demographic, economic and social data culled from 39 state and federal agencies.

Richmond County, with 193,098 people, is Georgia's seventh largest county. With 100,000 people, Columbia County would be about the 14th largest.

Here are the facts:

  • A decade ago, Columbia County's population was 66,031, up from 40,000 in 1970.
  • The population swelled to 91,118 two years ago.
  • From 1930, when the county's population was 8,793, until 1998, Columbia County was the sixth fastest growing county in Georgia; it's population increased by 936 percent.
  • All that means is more work for county leaders.

    It's bigger budgets, bigger buildings, better services, more schools, more police, more pollution, wider roads - and more people.

    Look at the county's operating budget: This year, it's a little more than $31 million; 20 years ago, the county's budget was $2.1 million.

    It's evident in the changes in the county in the past decade. Patriots Park - first built with sales tax dollars in the early 1990's - has swelled to capacity. Officials now plan to build another, similar recreation complex.

    The county's courthouse, the oldest in Georgia, is far too small for court proceedings; witnesses and spectators, sometimes even defendants, sit together in the second-floor courtroom. Now, a large courthouse annex near the bulk of the county's population in the Martinez/Evans area is under construction. Next door to the courthouse, an $8 million library will be built.

    Overcrowding is nothing new for the school system - more students enroll, more portable classrooms are added, and the school board struggles to build more buildings and hire more teachers.

    Often, it's a game of catch-up. For example, the county's roads.

    "The infrastructure has changed very little over the years, and some of our roads are not designed to handle this type of traffic flow," Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said.

    But while the traffic problems and the number of people have increased, the county's crime rate had dropped, he said.

    "We have experienced growth within the sheriff's office as the county's population has grown," Capt. Morris said. "We feel that we have adequate personnel to deliver professional services to the citizens of Columbia County and visitors alike at this time."

    Meanwhile, county planners are revising their growth-management plan, which is a guide for development and related growth, and, in some cases, suggests appropriate zoning for certain areas.

    But that's not the only program aimed at alleviating some of the problems associated with 60 years of explosive growth. There's also a program that uses county funds to build speed humps - which have more slope and are easier to cross than traditional speed bumps but still control speed in populated areas.

    "It is something people thought was necessary," Mr. Leiper said.

    Mr. Leiper is trudging through the initial stages of implementing the county's stormwater utility, which allows the county to raise money through monthly charges to control flooding along Reed Creek and other areas. Initially, the work - and the billing - will be concentrated in the eastern Columbia County area.

    Another thing Columbia County's population has brought with it is sprinklers - lots of them. And that creates a special challenge for the county's water plants.

    "We have to ask, `Is our challenge normal growth or is some of the strong water requirement growth because of the multitude of sprinkler systems that are being installed?'ƒ" Water and Sewer Services Director Billy Clayton said. "We have plenty of capacity of both water and wastewater for what you might want to call a normal-growth or even a high-growth cycle."

    But toss in the drought of recent years and a plethora of inground sprinklers and you get water restrictions, which the county has had in place since early May. Mr. Clayton said he'll encourage commissioners to look this winter at ways to control water use by sprinklers.

    "I think we may have to make some decisions where that is concerned," he said. "Do we try to regulate the irrigation need or build to meet the irrigation need?"

    By the numbers

    Columbia County population increase

    1930...8,793

    1940...9,433

    1950...9,525

    1960...13,423

    1970...22,327

    1980...40,118

    1990...66,031

    1997...88,731

    1998...91,118

    2003...104,500

    Source: 1999 edition of The Georgia County Guide

    Reach Jason B. Smith at (706) 868-1222.