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City keeps adding people
Census estimates show Cumming grew by 38 percent from 2000-07
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Forsyth County News

Recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that Cumming and most other northeast Georgia cities have posted significant population gains since the last official census was taken in 2000.

Census Bureau estimates show the population of Cumming rose more than 38 percent between 2000 and July 2007, from 4,220 to 5,842.

Since the last census, the bureau estimates that the populations of Dawsonville, Braselton and Flowery Branch have more than doubled. The rates of growth in Jefferson and other cities are not far behind.

Officials from the cities have varied feelings on the census estimates, with most lauding their efforts at controlled growth and others merely tolerating their proliferating populations.

James McCoy, president and chief executive officer of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, said the growth is "at the heart of what we're facing as a community."

"We don't want to kill off the very thing people are moving here to enjoy," McCoy said. "To continue this quality of life we need to keep our focus on schools, the environment, which includes lake levels and Lake Lanier, and we need to keep our eye on infrastructure needs."

Jason Brumbalow has noticed changes in just the six years he's called Cumming home.

"People just keep packing in here," he said. "It's gonna be overpopulated soon and it's not gonna be the same place it used to be."

Brumbalow's sentiments are shared by at least one Forsyth County official.

Commissioner Linda Ledbetter, whose district includes Cumming, said she is surprised and dismayed at the city's rapid population increase.

"The trend is here," she said. "And if we try to stop the growth, we're going to suffer economically. So I would've loved to have stopped it 20 years ago, but it's a little too late now."

Ledbetter, a lifelong resident of Cumming, said she has always opposed growth in Forsyth County and that "all these people who have moved in here who want to stop growth, they should think about the consequences."

The commissioner, who chose not to seek re-election this year, said the population growth has had a negative effect on her personally. For example, she said she has to drive to a traffic light to get on Highway 9 from her home.

"My quality of life has definitely been changed by people moving in here," she said. "I think if we could look back, we'd see that county commissions years ago would have never let this happen.

"We liked it as a small little town with very little here, but those days are gone."

Cumming City Administrator Gerald Blackburn said the city "doing all we can in our power to keep up."

"Just like the rest of North Georgia, we're growing pretty rapidly and that requires a whole lot of attention to infrastructure like water, wastewater and roads," he said.

"It's tough on anybody, whether you're a small city or not, to keep up with the growth. But the smaller you are, the less dollars are available and the tougher it is to keep up with the rapid growth."

Blackburn likened growth to a "two-sided coin."

"Without money, you certainly can't improve and add to your infrastructure like you need to," he said. "But with the growth that money is created ... and it helps you to keep up with it."

As for rapid growth, Blackburn said city leaders feel they have been able to stay above the curve on handling it.

"And as long as we can do that, that'll work."

Charles Laughinghouse, chairman of the Forsyth County commission, said growth has "pretty much been managed by the economy for the last 18 months."

"The county has taken the opportunity during this respite brought on by the economy to look at infrastructure and make plans for improvements," Laughinghouse said. "This board and future boards will continue to recognize that infrastructure and growth have to go hand in hand."

Cumming was not alone in its rapid growth. In fact, Braselton and Flowery Branch officials think their populations may be even higher than the bureau's most recent estimates.

Dawsonville officials may have seen the largest growth in population between 2000 and 2007, and the bureau estimates the city's population has grown by nearly 130 percent since the last census.

Danny Lewis, executive director of the Georgia Mountains Regional Development Center, said he was not surprised by the estimated population explosion.

"Dawsonville has done a major annexation program and that's probably helped them," Lewis said. "We're seeing a lot of what I call 'half-backs,' folks who moved to Florida and got scared by all the hurricanes in one year. They didn't want to go back up North, but wanted to go where there are four seasons."

Census estimates confirmed what Gainesville officials already knew. Their city is getting bigger, though maybe not as fast as in the past.

The Census Bureau estimates that Gainesville's population has grown 36 percent since the last official census to 34,818 in July 2007, and City Manager Bryan Shuler says most of the growth came with annexations, additional housing and migration.

Chamber of commerce officials say they are not shocked that there are at least 9,000 more people living in the city since the 2000 census.

"We have the quality of life that makes people want to move here," said Tim Evans, vice president for economic development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

Doug Bachtel, a demographer at the University of Georgia, said growth is "going to continue."
"You can't make a fence big enough to keep them out," he said.

Yet Bachtel said the reasons for north Georgia's rapid growth are too dynamic to pin on one reason.

"It's jobs, proximity, scenic beauty, the whole nine yards," Bachtel said. "As all the new people move in ... you need Realtors and attorneys and doughnuts and restaurants and dry cleaners and all that stuff, so it's sort of a synergistic effect and it feeds on itself."

So far, the drought has not had an impact on census numbers. But those numbers may not reflect the drought's impact on growth until the 2008 estimates are calculated.

"There's only so much you can do without water, and it's not water to drink, it's water to flush," Bachtel said. "Without that, your housing is stopped, and your business. At the mall, you're not going to have Port-A-Potties."

Until then, growth "just keeps on honking on, picking up steam with more jobs, more spillover, better transportation, continued growth and secondary job opportunities," Bachtel said.

Ledbetter said she has resigned herself to the trend.
"Change is like a galloping horse," she said. "You either get on board or watch it pass by."

Staff writers  Julie Arrington and Jennifer Sami contributed to this report, as did Harris Blackwood and Ashley Fielding of the FCN regional staff.