Mar 23 2007

Population growth will tax local resources

Huntsville TImes

More money is needed to take care of roads, schools

Madison County is the state's third-fastest growing county since 2000, according to new U.S. Census figures, and that brings its own set of challenges, local leaders say.

Shelby, Baldwin and Madison counties were the fastest growing among Alabama counties since 2000, according to U.S. Census figures released Thursday.

Shelby County grew the fastest, at 24 percent, as it added 34,889 residents since 2000 to reach 178,182. Baldwin grew by 20 percent, adding 28,747 residents to raise the coastal county's population in 2006 to 169,162. Madison, up by 10 percent, has grown by 27,607 to 304,307.

The entire region of North Alabama and southern Tennessee has a strong job market and is beginning to be recognized as a great place to raise a family, said Mike Gillespie, chairman of the Madison County Commission.

"We are becoming much more diversified," he said. "We have always had great jobs and economic benefits from the military side and the aerospace side. Now we are seeing a lot of growth in the private sector side. Many of those companies are world renowned, and that attracts a lot of different kinds of people."

That growth brings with it opportunities and challenges, Gillespie said. Without significant state help, the county is not going to be able to keep up with demands for road improvements, traffic flow and the influx of new pupils into the county schools, said.

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, and U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville, have provided federal money to the state to help with roads and transportation, Gillespie said.

"The problem that Madison County has, and I think it's true for a number of other counties that are growing so rapidly, is that the state doesn't help us with any matching funds to get that federal money," he said. "It usually comes in at an 80-20 match or a 90-10 match, and we are talking about millions of dollars for road work. The county is not able to come up with that significant amount of matching revenue."

Limestone County's population of 72,446 is a 3 percent increase; Marshall County's population increased 2 percent to 87,185; Morgan County has 115,237 people for a 1 percent increase; while Jackson County's population of 53,745, did not change.

Jefferson County, for the first time since the 2000 census, showed an increase in population with 656,700; adding just 686 people from 2005 to 2006. The county continues to have more people moving out than people moving in, said Annette Watters, the manager of the Alabama State Data Center at the University of Alabama's Center for Business and Economic Research.

Mobile County's population of 404,157 is a 1.1 percent increase from 2000 to 2006 after declines in 2002 and 2003.

Montgomery County's population grew by only 61 people from 2000 to 2006 to 223,571.

Population losses were posted in some rural counties. Perry, Greene, Macon, Bullock, Choctaw, Sumter, Lamar and Coosa counties lost between 6 percent and 9 percent of their total population since the 2000 census.

More than half of the state's 67 counties now have fewer people than they did in 2000, said Watters.

"The counties with reduced populations tend to be rural counties, but some of Alabama's metropolitan areas have lost population over this decade," Watters said.

Times staff writer David Holden and The Associated Press contributed to this story.