Growth causing growing pains in Forsyth County - North Atlanta Business Post
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Updated Nov 14 @ 1:05PM
 

Growth causing growing pains in Forsyth County

County officials keeping an eye on development, population

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FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — With a population expected to reach half a million by 2042, Forsyth County officials and residents constantly have questions, concerns and interest in the county’s growth.

Statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau earlier this year show the county’s population rose 4.03 percent last year from 212,438 in 2015, to 221,009 in 2016. That’s a nearly 26 percent increase from 2010 when the Forsyth population was estimated at 175,511.

This steady increase has placed burdens on the county and schools, while leaving residents wondering whether any plans are in place to accommodate the surge.

Forsyth County Board of Commissioners Chairman Todd Levent said in April the growth brings growing pains, including traffic, but he likes to call them “solvable challenges.”

“We are getting the roads to accommodate all the additional traffic,” Levent said. “We have a lot of things in place that are already in the works to resolve those issues, including the transportation bond that citizens passed in 2014, SPLOST dollars and our phenomenal relationship with the state and Georgia Department of Transportation.”

Either up or down, the population will directly affect many parts of the community.

“Obviously, growth creates all kinds of challenges, but so does lack of growth,” Levent said. “When we go to conventions, we talk to people across the state who don’t have enough money to replace 15-year-old police cars, and we have state-of-the-art equipment for ours. There are two sides to the spectrum and you have to decide which balance you like in life and the way you choose to live.”

In some areas, the boom has had a desirable impact on business, according to James McCoy, president and CEO of the Cumming—Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce.

“While the focus of attention has been on the growing population, the growth of jobs and businesses moving and expanding in Forsyth County also lead the country,” McCoy said. “For the exception of new road congestion, growth in Forsyth County is benefiting businesses in meaningful ways.”

Until the late 1970s, Forsyth was among the poorest counties in Georgia, McCoy said. It is now the most affluent with a school system that ranks among the best in the nation.

“Growth is a key driver of those attributes and many others, including world class healthcare, retail amenities and low taxes,” McCoy said. “There are consequences, like most fast-growth communities, the infrastructure lags behind the growth and we have to keep a strong focus on our identity as a community.”

Earlier this month, Forsyth County Schools officials addressed the overcrowding in its system.

People under the age of 18 comprise nearly 30 percent of the county’s population. And by 2018, the district projects nearly 50,000 students in its system. Since 2009, the county’s quality based education full-time equivalent student count has grown by 15,382 students, or 49.7 percent.

Forsyth County Schools Director of Facilities Planning Tim Amerson reassured county leaders the growth will not affect education.

“The education opportunity is well above most everything in metro Atlanta,” Amerson said. “We have a good record of being able to address the populations as they come. Yes, they are coming fast and furious. But we think we can handle it. We are almost caught up.”

Another large group in the county is those 65-years-old and up who make up 11 percent of the population.

Forsyth County Senior Services Director Ruthie Brew said her department is funded by government grants and user fees. It offers many amenities for the older population including multiple senior centers and a home bound program for those who don’t leave their house.

So while Forsyth County is working to help all of its 65+ population, there are still problems to address, like how low-income seniors can afford healthcare.

“The situation in Forsyth County and in the nation is the services are inadequate and not meeting demands,” Brew said. “It all comes down to the fact we are an aging society. The demands for healthcare for low-income people are higher than ever.”

Brew said her department is working with one Forsyth County woman who has trash piled on her porch, phone and water cut off and no food in her house. And while that’s an extreme case, the county and country, through offering Medicaid, have to be prepared to handle situations like it, she said.

“Medicaid is not keeping up with the demand on it right now,” Brew said. “We know we are going to need to build more senior centers around the county and we put in a request for that at Matt Park. But we do see the need throughout the county.”

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