Columbia County, Grovetown and, depending on who you ask, Harlem continued to increase their populations in 2006.
According to recently released U.S. Census figures, the unincorporated parts of Columbia County grew by 3.3 percent in 2006 over 2005, to 106,887 residents.
The same trend can be said for Grovetown, with the census showing an increase in 698 residents, to 8,139.
The census shows a slight decrease for Harlem, from 1,809 in 2005 to 1,802 in 2006. Harlem Mayor Scott Dean, though, contests that figure, saying the city actually saw a growth of about 100 to 150 people in 2006, to about 2,100. He said the city's population this year is probably between 2,200 and 2,300.
He said the census estimate must not have included some of Harlem's annexed areas.
"The (tax) digest is going up," he said of Harlem. "The population can't be going down with the digest going up. ... We've got a lot of young families moving in."
Grovetown Mayor Dennis Trudeau said he believes the census figures for his city are close to being accurate. He said the population this year is probably just above 9,000.
Affordable new homes, he said, are attracting many people to Grovetown.
By the end of this year, Columbia County's unincorporated population also is expected to grow; county planners estimate the figure to be more than 109,000 by December. That figure is based on an average growth of about 2,500 people each year.
"We're excited about the growth because all the time we keep saying, 'Well, sooner or later this has got to slow down,' but it's staying pretty consistent," Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said. "But it's a two-edge sword because with more people comes more responsibility to provide the services that all Columbia Countians want and deserve."
According to the census figures, the county's growth in population from April 1, 2000, when there were 89,288 residents, to July 1, 2006, was 19.7 percent.
County officials say that although it's good to be a desirable location, problems can arise, including road congestion, infrastructure costs and crime.
For the most part, though, Columbia County has maintained a relatively low crime rate, with crime decreasing last year by 3.9 percent.
Cross said security is a key component to Columbia County's quality of life, which, coupled with good schools, helps attract people to the area.
"I don't think there's any question schools are a big attraction, and then the quality of life," he said. "And all of that's a function of government and the public safety aspect. People feel safe."
As for infrastructure needs that result from growth, the county is considering impact fees, which are charged to developers based on costs resulting from new growth.
The county is gearing up for a study on the feasibility of such fees, awaiting the selection of a consultant for the study within the next month. Cross said the consultant would have three or four months to finish the study. Commissioners then would likely decide whether to have impact fees by the end of this year.
"We've been able to roll taxes back a little bit without impact fees, which shows we're doing pretty good," Cross said. "But if that (the impact fee) becomes a viable source that doesn't cripple the progress, then the commissioners will look at it, I hope very objectively, and make a decision."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.