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B-LC officials defend growth

By Sherri Ellington Rumors of Barnesville-Lamar County’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. You can take that from Mayor Peter Banks himself. The rumors are based on a presentation by a University of North Carolina professor. Dr. James H. Johnson Jr. decided to call any Municipal Electric Corporation of Georgia community ‘“ and its surrounding county ‘“ ‘dying’ based solely on declining population change estimates from 2012 compared to the actual 2010 census. That census showed an increase in population over 2000 even as the housing bubble burst and local businesses shut down. ’The economy started recovering in 2009,’ said city manager Kenny Roberts. What should have died out as another one-hour exhibit at another MEAG convention became a tempest in a teapot when an elected official of a neighboring city decided to parlay Upson County’s spurious status of ‘dying’ into a bid to raise property taxes. Thomaston Mayor Hays Arnold also mentioned the other two ‘dying’ communities as identified by Johnson: Lamar and Wilkes counties. ’The presentation didn’t have anything to do with economics,’ said Roberts. ‘It’s all about population change. Dr. Johnson took the 2010 census and compared it with one of the 2012 estimates, which are contrived. I’ve never been able to find out who does them. In my experience they’re inaccurate ‘“ and a dime a dozen.’ Industrial Development Authority director Missy Kendrick looked for 2012 estimates and came up with different numbers than those Johnson used in his 172-page long ‘Disruptive Demographics: Implications for Business, Workforce Development and Consumer Markets.’ ’It’s pure conjecture and the information is ambiguous,’ said Kendrick. ‘How are 2007 fertility rates relevant to MEAG?’ In the study, Johnson used births, deaths and migratory information ‘“ estimates of people moving in and out of a community ‘“ to decide if a MEAG community fell into self-named categories including the inaptly named ‘dying.’ ’We know what dying means. When people hear a community is dying they think of socioeconomics, not six people died and 190 left,’ said Roberts. ‘He didn’t use it in that context. We think it’s unfair and a bad choice of terminology. Now it’s being repeated.’ Johnson also discussed topics such as ‘the browning of Georgia’ to refer to the influx of Hispanics, the ‘silver tsunami’ to talk about aging Baby Boomers and ‘marrying out’ to mean interracial mar­riages. ’Once I found out what he was talking about I didn’t worry about it,’ said Kendrick. ‘We’re doing everything right as far as our economic development and we’re going to keep on doing what we’re doing. He was presenting his interpretation of the facts. We welcome the chance to prove him wrong.’ Roberts pointed to other statistics: A declining dropout rate, a rising graduation rate and increased numbers of students in local schools and Gordon State College have expanded. ’No one can determine if we’re dying except us,’ he said. ‘We choose not to die. Barnesville is successful and Lamar County is successful. We don’t have contests between the city and county here.’ Kendrick is working on four economic development projects through the IDA to improve jobs and the economy. Barnesville and Lamar County are completing a trade off of library, recreation and water supply services to avoid double taxation issues that plagued the community in the past. ’We found a solution,’ Roberts said. ‘We worked it out. Barnesville’s finances are sound and we have an outstanding bond rating by Standard and Poor’s. We’re not struggling to make payroll or declining in any category.’

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