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Updated: Tuesday, May 11, 2004 11:12 AM EDT

Scott Buckler (left) and Travis Yenchochic put the finishing touches on the sidewalk in a new housing development in Union, Boone County, one of the fastest growing counties in Kentucky.


Lifestyle, Economic Perks Spur Explosive Boone County Growth

BURLINGTON Cathy Schramm and her husband were drawn to Boone County "enchanted by its rural character," as she says, but then left Boone for Lakeside Park in Kenton County in the mid-1980s.

Now they've returned to Boone after 19 years, a couple among the thousands in the last three years who have moved into Boone County.

"We wanted to do a ranch (-style home), and we happened to find this ranch in a gorgeous setting overlooking a lake and a golf course," said Ms. Schramm, who is branch manager of the Sibcy Cline realty office in Florence. "Although it was more expensive than the home we were in, with the lower tax rate and direct access to the interstate, we moved back."

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Its northern and western borders are defined by the Ohio River, and its land historically was given to farming, while its character is a thick weave of open space, small town charm, and an explosion of suburban and commercial development.

Boone County booms.

It was the least populous of the three Northern Kentucky counties, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, then pushed ahead of Campbell County a year later. July 2001 estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau gave it a population of 90,264 to Campbell's 88,594.

It hasn't peaked yet. July 2003 estimates show Boone with a population of 97,139, a 13 percent increase in just three years, and county officials believe their 2010 estimate of 112,000 to be too conservative, and expect 139,000 residents by the year 2020.

"We feel pretty comfortable with these numbers," said Bob Jonas, a planner with the Boone County Planning Commission.

The 1990 census showed a population of 57,589.

The reasons for why Boone has become a hot spot have to do with affordable housing, access to the interstates, the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and the jobs it brought as it grew, and lower taxes.

"One item that continues to drive the desire to live in Boone County is the school system," said Gary Moore, county judge/executive. "It continues to rank very highly in Kentucky as far as quality of education. We also have very safe communities, a low crime rate. There's also an ample supply of good-paying jobs, and people wanting to live closer to work. There's the job creation that's happened in and around the airport."

In the 1990s, as Boone was growing, planning commission tracked the new residents and where they were moving from. Jonas said 42 percent were coming from Kenton County. About 10.5 percent were coming from the Ohio counties of Hamilton, Clermont, Butler and Warren. About 4.5 to 5.5 percent were moving in from Gallatin, Grant, Pendleton, Carroll and Owen counties, and about 5.3 percent were from Campbell County.

"That's the historical trend we saw throughout the 1990s," said Jonas. He said later this summer they should be able to tell where the 13 percent spike in population in the last three years came from.

"They're coming from somewhere," he said. "It's not all births. It's definitely relocation."

The population boom is clearly reflected in the building permits for new single-family homes issued over the past five years in Boone County. According to the Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky, between 1,000 and 1,300 permits were issued in each of the past five years for Boone, compared to 500 to 700 in Kenton County and 100 to 200 in Campbell County.

For the first quarter this year, single-family home permits were up 23 percent over 2003 in Northern Kentucky, with Boone again leading the boom, according to Dan Dressman, executive vice president of the association. Boone had 336 permits; Kenton, 186; and Campbell, 24.

"That's not going to slow down for a while," said Jonas of Boone growth.

"For the last eight to 10 years Boone has been one of the fastest growing counties in Kentucky," said Ms. Schramm. "We certainly have the land. We have the proximity to the interstate system. With the airport here, it makes sense for companies to relocate here. Toyota has their North American headquarters here. And the property tax is so darn low."

Robert and Janet Rouland chose a home in Boone in January 2003 when they arrived back in the states from Brussels, Belgium. Mr. Rouland works for the Department of Homeland Security, and was offered a job as a manager of Homeland Security at the airport. He and his wife first looked for a home in Kenton County and farther south.

"Because I'll be working at the airport, we wanted to live on this side of the river," said Mr. Rouland. "I didn't do any detailed studies on lower taxes or anything like that. But the Boone County schools got good ratings and I have two small kids. It's easy to get from my house to work, 20 minutes door to door. We loved the house, we loved the neighborhood, we loved the area."

Moore said property taxes are low because of a payroll tax that, because of the amount of industry in the county, "is our number one generator of income."

About 22,000 jobs are being performed by people who live outside the county. "Those people coming in to work are actually paying for police, parks, public works," said Moore.

Moore also points out that about 70,000 of the county's estimated 97,000 residents live outside the county's three cities n Florence, Union and Walton n meaning they don't pay city taxes on top of the county's taxes, thus lowering their payments.

"We have the lowest tax structure of any county in the Greater Cincinnati region," said Moore.

There is a downside to the growth, a fear of suburban sprawl that physically taxes infrastructure, schools and services like police, fire and public works. Moore said the challenges are with schools and the state highway system.

With the other concerns, he said, "we are able to provide those functions adequately even with the growth we're seeing." New roads within subdivisions are being handled by developers of those subdivisions, with maintenance being turned over to the county once they're developed.

But the state highways need to be addressed by the state, which has not reinvested money back into changes like widening roads and adding turn lanes. And more residents mean more children and more schools.

"The county school board voted just last year voted to increase property taxes, which is going into a construction fund to build the schools they'll need," said Moore. "The challenge is to be able to afford the bricks and mortar to provide the classrooms."

Cathy Schramm is not surprised by the population spike in Boone.

"Boone County in 1979 was pretty darn rural," said Ms. Schramm. "There was the mall (Florence Mall) and that was it. But now young people starting out can afford something brand new. You can buy a brand new house for $125,000 to $130,000, so the kids can get in there for first-time housing."

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