Originally created 12/16/05

Mapping out a merger

Right now, it would rank No. 7.

But by the 2010 Census, if Columbia County incorporates a new city and consolidates it with the county government, officials say, that newly named entity could become the fifth largest city in Georgia.

It's a possible ranking that county officials say would likely come with another change: a larger name on state maps.

"It would put us on the map,'' Columbia County Management Services Director Todd Glover said.

Such a ranking is something county commissioners have said is one of many reasons why incorporation and consolidation would be good for the county.

Mr. Glover said being a No. 5 city could help the area attract businesses and tourism through better name recognition.

He gives the analogy of a Weather Channel map.

"If you've ever watched The Weather Channel, when they do the regional weather, have you ever seen a county listed?'' he asked. "Not once. But you see cities listed like Columbia, S.C., and Spartanburg and Charleston and Savannah and Macon.''

Mr. Glover said a No. 5 ranking for a Columbia County city is conceivable, being that several of Georgia's largest cities are either decreasing in population or slow in growing.

"That certainly, at the rate we're growing, is an achievable ranking,'' he said.

Right now, Mr. Glover said that if Columbia County created a newly incorporated city in the Evans-Martinez area and consolidated it with the county's unincorporated parts, the new city would rank seventh in population in the state, just behind Macon, which he said had a 97,255 population in the 2000 Census and dropped to 94,990 in a 2004 estimate.

Mr. Glover said all of a newly consolidated area, not just the incorporated area of Evans-Martinez, would be considered the city's population.

That unincorporated area of the county, he said, currently has about 92,500 people, excluding the approximately 8,000 who live in Grovetown and Harlem.

"We've said all along in our presentations that consolidation would help put our name on the map, that outside of our area most people don't know where Columbia County is, and being a city of a certain size obviously brings you more recognition.''

When it comes to state funding, though, Betty Hudson, an attorney and public service associate for the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia, said being a No. 5 city in population doesn't factor in.

"Under Georgia's current law, there is no distinction based on the size of the city, it being a larger city,'' she said. "... It can have bigger impact around the state by its sheer numbers, but in terms of having more authority or anything like that, no ... It's not necessarily going to get you more funding.''

Still, having Columbia County designated as a large city in Georgia could create a rare situation, in that it would be just one county north of another large consolidated city, Mr. Glover said.

He said he knows of one other such area in the state, mentioning Columbus-Muscogee County and Cusseta-Chatahoochee County, but "Cusseta-Chattahoochee is much smaller than Columbus. So, not only would it (an incorporated and consolidated Columbia County) result in two major cities that are contiguous, it would also be two major consolidated governments that were contiguous."

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

Populations in Georgia

Population estimates of largest cities in Georgia based on Census figures:

Atlanta: 2000 - 416,474;    2004 estimate - 419,122

Augusta: 2000 - 195,182;    2004 estimate - 191,326

Columbus: 2000 - 185,781;    2004 estimate - 182,850

Savannah: 2000 - 131,510;    2004 estimate - 129,808

Athens: 2000 - 100,266;    2004 estimate - 102,744

Macon: 2000 - 97,255;    2004 estimate - 94,990

Columbia County Inc.:    2000 - 81,386 (unincorporated area, excluding Harlem and Grovetown);    2004 estimate - 92,500 (unincorporated area)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau


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