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Census: County ranks 9th in adding people

LAWRENCEVILLE - The fact that a lot of people live in Gwinnett County is no secret.

And it's common knowledge more keep moving in.

What is news is exactly how many new people are calling Gwinnett home: 168,656 between 2000 and 2006 according to Census data, making the county ninth on the nationwide list of those with the highest numerical growth.

Maricopa County, Ariz., which added 695,784 new residents in the same period, was first.

For local residents, Gwinnett's additional population is a blessing and a curse. It means more diversity in schools and more taxes to be collected, but also translates into longer traffic jams and closer houses, many said.

Valerie Black, who grew up in Lawrenceville, said enough is enough.

"It's just too much. They're bringing Atlanta to us," she said. "The roads are not keeping up with the population. The traffic is terrible."

Black said she still loves Gwinnett, and that sentiment was echoed by a number of people who didn't seem surprised to learn the county was so high on the Census' list.

Kimberly Hogg, who has lived in Norcross and Lawrenceville since 1985, said she likes the mild seasons, proximity to mountains and an international airport, the low cost of living and the county's location in the Bible Belt.

All those things, she said, make up for congested roads and a plethora of shopping centers.

"I absolutely love it here," Hogg said. "I have no intentions of going anywhere else. I really like this area."

Hogg was transferred to Gwinnett, but stayed in the county long after that job was over, she said. A brother followed her, and many residents said they or others moved to the county to be closer to relatives.

Other draws included the schools, Gwinnett's comparatively low taxes and a high quality of life.

Lawrenceville resident Bobby Dupont is originally from Jamaica, but said he moved from DeKalb County to Gwinnett about three years ago for the schools. The county's diversity is a good thing for education, he said, but students who do not speak English can be a drain on the system. Andrea Charles, who has lived in the county for about a year after living in Boston, then Lithonia, said Gwinnett is safer than where she moved from.

Charles Bannister, chairman of the county's board of commissioners, said the Census numbers were pretty close to those the county had been using. But he said Gwinnett's growth has not been consistent over the years, and he expects it to continue to slow.

The county benefits from more people in terms of a boost to the economy, he said, and is keeping up with the growth. It is the 69th-fastest growing county in the nation, with a growth rate of 28.7 percent.

"The water still comes on," he said. "The road system is lacking, and we're working toward that end. We've got a full-blown program and we're maintaining pace with infrastructure. We're moving full-steam ahead."

Gail Wright, an eight-month resident of the county who moved from Long Island, said she originally expected to move to Cobb County when her husband's job was transferred to Sandy Springs. But Wright said now that she lives in Gwinnett, she has no interest in moving.

"People are very nice and friendly and there's always something going on," she said. "It's a serene atmosphere. Everything in New York is rush rush, hurry hurry. It's nothing like being down here."

Barrow growth rate remains high

Barrow County also added new residents to become the 22nd-fastest growing county in the nation, according to Census data. It is the fifth-fastest growing in the state, a designation that relies on a growth percentage instead of raw population numbers.

The county has added 17,558 people between 2000 and 2006 for a population of 63,702, a growth rate of 38.1 percent. Last year, Barrow was the 24th-fastest growing county in the United States.

County Commission Chairman Doug Garrison said he was not "overly shocked" by the news.

"Our work's still cut out for us," he said. "It does challenge us to constantly evaluate our services."

Garrison said the county has seen more commercial interest recently and is considering impact fees to help pay for the growth. He said the county's location between Athens and Atlanta and the large amounts of green space make it attractive for new residents.

The county will continue its plans to bring sewer service to its predetermined growth corridors, he said, and make good use of water.

"We have to move faster instead of slower," he said. "We have more emphasis on transportation issues, roads. This will take it to the forefront for us now."