Collin County, Texas, “has been growing for a really long time — it’s been both continuous and dramatic,” according to Clarence Daugherty, the county’s director of engineering.
The suburban county is part of the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan statistical area and it includes a small part of the city of Dallas.
That makes Collin County a model of the population shift reported by the Economic Innovation Group. A study by the group finds that the majority of the fastest-growing counties in 2021 were suburban or “exurban.” According to the Economic Innovation Group report, Collin County had a population of 1,109,462 in 2021, a gain of 36,313 people.
Driving some of the population shift? The number of remote workers who have moved to more affordable areas since the pandemic began in 2020. Nearly 5 million have moved, according to Upwork.
Large urban counties, on the other hand, experienced a net loss of 863,000 residents in 2021, the first time this group has experienced negative growth in the aggregate in the past 50 years.
Sixty-eight percent of large urban counties lost population in 2021, “an exceptionally high share by historical standards,” according to the study.
Eighty-one percent of exurban counties gained population in 2021, outperforming any other group. Rural counties without metropolitan areas saw the highest population gain since 2008.
In Collin County, a big challenge from all the growth is keeping up with infrastructure needs, according to Daugherty. In Texas, a county is responsible for areas outside the cities.
Bond programs and the Texas Department of Transportation are sources of funding.
But “probably the most basic thing that allows us to keep up with the infrastructure needs,” Daugherty said, is that the builders pay for infrastructure in new developments.
“The existing population does not have to pay for the new people,” he noted. “Developers are even required to contribute to connection to thoroughfares.”
Sometimes, suburban “circle cities” are bedroom communities and, because residential taxes are relatively low, “they are not always in good shape financially,” Daugherty said. “Taxes on commercial and, especially, industrial, pay much more. It’s healthier when you have a good mix.”
Collin County, he added, has a healthy mix, with Texas Instruments, Toyota Motor Corp., Nortel and Raytheon among its employers.
Dawson County, Georgia, an exurban county north of Atlanta with a population of 28,497 grew by 1,450 people last year.
Over the past 10 years, the county has grown roughly 20 percent, according to Billy Thurmond, chairman of the Dawson County Board of Commissioners.
“As you grow, you have to keep up with delivery of all the services. All departments have seen increased costs.”
To pay for those services, the county board of commissioners has sought ways to increase revenue without increasing property taxes.
One big solution, Thurmond said, has been “impact fees. Every time a new house is built, it has an impact fee.
That helps us meet service delivery for the first year until they become part of our tax base.”
The county also works with developers to contribute toward ancillary construction of roadways.
“We can’t make developers do it. But we can ask them, and we’ve not been turned down. They understand they are impacting traffic,” Thurmond said.
Another money-maker is a special local option sales tax. “One penny of sales tax in this small county brings in $10 million a year. Mall sales tax comes from people who don’t live here.”
As a result of these efforts, according to Thurmond, “we’ve lowered our county millage.”Hero 1