Originally created 07/03/05

County tries to keep up good image



Mike and Karen Buddendeck examined several potential homes when they moved to the Augusta area in June from the Washington, D.C., area.

Many homes in Summerville appealed to them, but they deemed them too old and too expensive. They also had their five children, between the ages of 5 months and 8 years, to consider.

The couple eventually chose a house in the Jones Creek subdivision of Martinez.

"Schools were a big issue for us," said Mr. Buddendeck, a recently hired lawyer for TFE Group Inc. of Augusta.

"We moved from Fairfax County (Va.), which had really good schools. In speaking with people down here, we found out the schools in Columbia County were probably the best ones."

When it comes to selling potential home buyers on Columbia County, the promise of a quality education is a significant selling point, said Grey Meybohm, the manager of Meybohm Realtors' Columbia County office.

"The school system is a huge draw as to why people move out here," Mr. Meybohm said. "It's the crown jewel, probably, for selling homes here."

Brenda Dansby, a real estate agent for Meybohm Realtors, said she sells an average of 10 homes a month.

About 75 percent are people moving into Columbia County, she said.

Although good schools are a significant draw for her clients, Ms. Dansby said, the appeal of a slower-paced lifestyle and friendly neighbors also invites many to look at Columbia County.

"You have people that are not from here that don't have their lives set up," she said. "They want to make friends. They want to get involved. This is a community that it is easy to do that in."

With schools and quality of life being such big issues in the county, the county's Board of Education and Board of Commissioners have been meeting quarterly to try to increase communication on what is needed for the county's future.

County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said he thinks both boards do a good job, but that the two should probably meet more often than they do now, as often as every other month.

At the most recent quarterly meeting between the boards, tensions ran high as some members of the two boards discussed recent bickering among officials over the school system's bidding process and comments made by Mr. Cross to the media about the system's architect of record.

Still, Mr. Cross said he doesn't see a conflict between the two boards.

"I don't see the conflict there that's been publicized," he said. "We're willing at all times to work with them, and we do meet. ... I really am kind of mystified sometimes at some of the comments about the problems."

Mr. Cross and Vice Chairwoman Diane Ford agree that what attracts people to Columbia County is a mix of both the area's quality of life and its school system.

"I think it's a 50/50," Mrs. Ford said, adding that she also looks forward to working with school board members.

"I think people do come for the quality of life that we have, and I think people come and stay here and build homes just like I did back in 1986 to get my kids in the Columbia County school system," Mrs. Ford said.

Mr. Cross said he thinks the overall perception of Columbia County is that it has a good quality of life, "the government is reasonably well," and the school system is exceptional.

"It's a combination of things," he said. "Schools are certainly at the top of the list."

County school board Chairwoman Regina Buccafusco agreed with Mr. Cross that the tension between the two boards is not as serious as many believe.

"I'm really encouraged by the way we're working together," she said. "I don't think we have any real problems."

Wayne Bridges, the school board vice chairman and a former chairman of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, said cooperation between the commission, school board and local industry is what's needed to achieve the ultimate goal of a vibrant community.

"Everybody understands that we have a good thing," Mr. Bridges said. "As long as we don't take it for granted and we continue to work together, even when we have our differences, then we can meet that goal."

Mrs. Ford said she's glad the school board and commission meet at all.

"I think it's great that we do meet, and we're not going to always agree on everything," she said. "They have to acknowledge our presence in the county, and we have to acknowledge their presence in the county because we all work for the same people."

Concerning the county's quality of life and its school system, Mrs. Ford said "I don't think one can survive without the other."

Reach Preston Sparks at 868-1222, ext. 115, or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.

Columbia County by the numbers

91,288: 2000 population

100,589: 2005 population estimate

144,667: 2025 population estimate

$55,582: Mean household income in 2000, compared with $33,086 in Richmond County

91: Percentage of homes for single families

4: Percentage of homes that are townhomes or duplexes

5: Percentage of homes that are multifamily housing

52: Percentage of homes with three or more family members

29: Percentage of homes with two-person families

18: Percentage of non-family households

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau and EDAW Inc., an Atlanta-based firm consulting Columbia County officials on their revision of its Growth Management Plan