Local cities top growth ratings

By Diane Wagner

Diane and Jack Green are selling their home in Jonesboro, where they've lived for over 25 years, and packing for a move to Henry County.

"We're ready for a change," Diane Green said. "When we moved here, it was more of a countryside. Now, everything's grown up and it's full of businesses and traffic."

Clayton County had a major growth spurt about a decade ago and now it's Henry County's turn.

Earlier U.S. Census Bureau figures showed Henry is the third fastest growing county in the country. A report released this week on the growth rate of individual cities narrows the focus farther.

The report, using estimated population changes between July 1, 2001 and July 1, 2002, ranks both Riverdale and Stockbridge among the 15 fastest growing cities in the state.

"We can tell it every day," Stockbridge City Clerk Merle Manders said. "We add about 80 new utility customers a month."

Stockbridge was No. 12 on the list, with a growth rate of 4.7 percent. Only Canton, Woodstock, Newnan and Acworth topped Riverdale, where the population increased by 9.7 percent.

Aside from Riverdale, though, the other cities in Clayton County showed small population decreases while all four of Henry County's municipalities grew.

Clayton County had an overall growth rate of 2.1 percent, adding about 5,153 residents that year to reach an estimated population of 252,733.

The Clayton portion of College Park and the cities of Forest Park, Jonesboro, Lake City, Lovejoy and Morrow lost between 1 percent and 1.3 percent of their populations. Unincorporated Clayton County grew 2.2 percent.

Riverdale City Manager Billy Beckett said he estimates the city's population is now over 15,000, primarily because the mayor and city council have adopted policies to encourage residential development.

"I think it's attributable to the city's attractiveness to families," he said. "We have a relatively low crime rate, recreational opportunities here and nearby and we're conveniently located to job magnets like the airport, the hospital and Atlanta."

The Census Bureau ranking only includes cities with populations of 10,000 or more. McDonough, with an estimated population of 9,997, actually leads the pack in Henry County with a 9.3 percent increase in residents.

Overall, Henry County grew about 7.1 percent?to an estimated 139,699 residents?between 2001 and 2002. Hampton registered a 4.6 percent increase and Locust Grove grew by 110 people or 4.5 percent.

Stockbridge City Manager Ted Strickland played a major role in local 2000 Census preparations. He said his city, whose population is now estimated at 10,777, began preparing years ago for an influx of residents.

"I kept telling them in 1997 that we'd be at 10,000 by 2000," he said. "We've averaged 71 new residential housing units a month this year, plus we've annexed, and I'm estimating we'll be at 21,000 by 2005."

McDonough Community Development Director Rodney Heard said the waves of growth hit Stockbridge first, then roll south through McDonough. Officials in that city are in the middle of a bid to double the capacity of their wastewater treatment plant.

The expensive project is something Beckett might describe as the downside of being popular.

"In the long range, growth is good," the Riverdale city manager said. "But with growth comes the responsibility to ensure it doesn't outstrip our infrastucture or ability to provide services."