Construction numbers throughout 2009 showed that growth in Newton County was falling off a cliff; the Atlanta Regional Commission’s 2009 population estimates illustrate just how steep that cliff is.
According to the ARC, Newton County grew by only 200 people in 2009, a far cry from the 5,000-person jump experienced as recently as 2007. The metro Atlanta region overall had its slowest growth since the 1950s — which the ARC said was "a sure sign of the national and local slowdown in homebuilding."
The U.S. Census Bureau’s estimates were more favorable, showing an increase of nearly 1,600 people in 2009. Every year from 2000 to 2007, the county grew by at least 4,000 people, and even during the housing collapse in 2008, the county still increased by 2,600.
By comparison, the last year of the decade in Newton County looks like an anomaly.
According to the county, there were only 45 new residential permits given out in 2009, as that number continued to shrink. In addition there were 1,887 total foreclosures in 2009, including 1,248 houses. However, more than 1,300 properties went back out on the market in 2009.
Warren Brown, with the University of Georgia, said it’s quite possible that migration rates are down across the country.
"It could be that Newton County is not less attractive, but people may be mired where they are. They may not be able to unload their house or they may be upside down in their mortgage. That could mean there is pent-up demand," Brown said.
Once the market revives, growth rates could return to normal or even increase if the pent-up demand is unleashed.
Despite the drop-off in growth in 2009, Newton still finished as the 12th fastest growing county of the decade, by percentage. It grew from 62,883 to 99,944, according to the Census, a percentage growth of 61.2 percent.
The east-Atlanta region was well represented as Henry was the 11th fastest growing county and Walton County was the 41st fastest growing; 17 of the 100 fastest growing counties were in Georgia.
The ARC estimates Newton’s 2009 population to be 97,000. Local officials have long felt the Census and ARC were underestimating Newton’s population. Chairman Kathy Morgan said county officials believe Newton population is around 104,000. GIS Manager Lynn Parham said the local population could be as high as 115,000 or as low as just above 100,000.
The 2010 Census is in full swing, as governments push to get a complete count of all of their residents, not just their official citizens. The more residents that are counted, the more federal money a county will receive. Each year, $400 billion is given out to health programs, schools, construction projects and other programs.
The form was made simpler this year, and is designed to only take 10 minutes to answer the 10 questions. Many residents are wary about filling out the census and releasing private information. However, neither social security numbers nor other private personal information is asked for. Morgan said if residents are still concerned about putting their name and number on the form, they should at least fill in their street address and the number of people living in the residence.
For residents who haven’t received a census form, lost their form or have questions about the form, the county has opened several centers.
Three of them are actual question-assistance centers, where residents can receive help filling out their forms. These are the:
• Covington City Hall, 2194 Emory St., (770) 385-2010
• Newton County Library, 7116 Floyd St., (770) 787-3231
• Newton County Senior Services, 6183 Turner Lake Road, (770) 787-0038
Spanish help is available at city hall and library. Hours are different at each center; call for more details. There are also five additional centers, where residents can simply pick up forms:
• Covington- Newton County Chamber of Commerce, 2101 Clark St., (770) 786-7510
• Newborn City Hall, 4224 Highway 142, Newborn, (770) 787-1660
• Oxford City Hall, 810 Whatcoat St, Oxford, (770) 786-7004
• Porterdale City Hall, 2400 Main St, Porterdale, (678) 491-9073
• Snapping Shoals EMC, 14750 Brown Bridge Road, (770) 385-2841
In addition, on April 10 the county is hosting its March to the Mailbox event. Workers will actually march out to areas, knock on doors and try to make sure forms get to the mailbox. Currently, 49 percent of Newton County addresses have responded. The address response rate for the 200 Census was 76 percent, and Morgan said she hopes that rates is much higher this year.
As of 2007, Newton County had 33,563 addresses, according to a study by the county’s Geographic Information Systems department.