Columbus knocks Augusta out as second largest city in Georgia

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Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) We did some digging and found out Augusta is not growing at same rate of other cities in the state of Georgia. Augusta could be playing catch-up. We found both cities have some of the same problems.

The story isn't about which city is better but how one could be out growing the other.

"I say we're the second largest city, because no one has told me otherwise," said City Administrator Fred Russell.

The 2012 Census Estimates speaks to something different. Numbers show Augusta is no longer the second largest city in Georgia. The crown now belongs to Columbus. They've grown by 4.5 percent in just two years.

Richmond County only grew by one percent. We loaded up, hit the road and left town. It took us almost four hours and we drove more than two hundred miles. We wanted to know how Columbus left Augusta behind.

The VP of Governmental Affairs and the Columbus City Manager were happy to be our tour guide. "I'm not going to be bold enough to say we're Austin, Texas. It's almost that sort of vibe," said Governmental Affairs VP Colin Martin.

"Taxes have given Columbus the momentum that we needed. The growth in our community," said Columbus Deputy City Manager Lisa Goodwin.

Both believe a big part of that growth Fort Benning which benefited from BRAC, just like Fort Gordon did. Plus Fort Benning has a new armor school.

"If you were to dwindle down the numbers of what segments grew that's going to be the biggest segment," said Martin.

Who brought in more business? In Augusta, the Economic Development Team reports bringing in 42 new businesses and more than 2,000 jobs in the last several years. Industry is growing in Columbus as well. The Chamber reports they've attracted 17 new businesses and more than 1,000 jobs for the same time period.

"We are just excited," said Goodwin.

Columbus Police Officers, Firemen and other city employees sit anxiously waiting to hear if their health insurance will go up. Columbus is facing a $2 million budget shortfall.

Augusta is in the hole by more than $8 million.

"They're things we don't have to do. The hard part is trying to get commissioners to determine what they are," City Administrator Fred Russell.

"The question is who pays for it? Do we balance it on the shoulders of the employees or departments," said Goodwin.

Both cities are working to improve their downtown image.

"Some people still feel it may not be so safe, because it's so active. Wherever you have people, " said Goodwin.

Columbus State University opened a fine arts campus downtown. Augusta is trying to get GRU to open on Broad Street.

On any given night, you'll have Columbus State University Police, Columbus Police and Military Police patrolling the area. Downtown businesses there pay more for extra policing. It's sort of like the plan proposed by Sheriff Roundtree that Augusta property owners turned down.

"We have other cities that are going to completely knock us out if they haven't already," said Commissioner Bill Lockett.

The Columbus City Government runs the bus service and it's costing them about $6.5 million. Routes touch around 75 to 80% of Muscogee County

In Richmond County, a private company is behind the wheel, but it's still costing taxpayers around $4 million a year. Bus lines only get to about 65% of the county.

"You operate in the red. it's not a for profit business, it's a community service," said

Both Augusta and Columbus are vying for the same title, but there can only be one second largest city in Georgia. The numbers show people aren't moving away from Augusta, but they're not moving to the city either.

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