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Local governments in countdown to census

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Sergio Martinez of the Denver office of the U.S. Census Bureau talked to area government officials about planning for the 2020 census survey during a Tuesday meeting in Roswell. (Submitted Photo)

Area city and county officials already are planning for the 2020 U.S. Census survey that will impact funding for the region.

A graph provided by Sergio Martinez of the Denver office of the U.S. Census Bureau indicates what groups might belong to a local government’s count committee. (Submitted Graphic)

Will Roswell’s population grow from the 48,366 recorded in 2010 to that long-awaited 50,000 count, or will economic hardships of the last couple of years mean a dip in the number of residents?
“The question of reaching 50,000 residents has been a perennial question for a number of census cycles,” said City of Roswell Planning Manager Bill Morris. “While the 2010 census showed our population to be 48,366, the U.S. Census Bureau is showing that, in 2016, the city’s estimated population was 48,184. While a debate of the validity of these numbers can be questioned, it underscores the need to have all of our residents accounted for.”
Outcomes of census surveys can have positive or negative effects for states and cities, said Sergio Martinez, partnership specialist with the Denver regional office of the U.S. Census Bureau. He said survey results affect congressional representation and federal funding.
“They distribute $400 billion a year and they are distributed among a 1,000 programs,” said Martinez. “WIC (Women, Infants and Children) is one of them, of course. Headstart is another one of them.”
Funding for transportation and public safety agencies also is affected.
Dora Batista, executive director of SNMEDD, which represents 26 area governments in five counties, gave an example of the importance of sound results.
She said Lake Arthur had some sort of glitch occur in 2010. Even though the area has more than 70 percent of low- and moderate-income residents, the survey results showed only 35 percent in those categories, which has meant that the town has been eligible for less in federal grants during the past seven years than it expected. She said efforts to rectify the data problem have not met with success yet.
Even though the actual surveys will not begin until March 2020, part of the effort to prevent undercounting or incorrect data is occurring now. Government officials have until Dec. 15 of this year to register to participate in the Local Update of Census Addresses.
That process, which takes place only once every 10 years, allows local government administrators to provide information to the U.S. Census Bureau about where residents could be living who otherwise might not be counted. Examples of people who often go uncounted include those living in others’ residences for a year or two, which can include immigrants and people working temporary jobs, and the homeless, who do not have permanent addresses.

Roswell managers as well as other local government representatives also have been or can participate in the Boundary and Annexation Survey to ensure that the Census Bureau has identified correctly the legal boundaries of government entities.
Martinez indicated that many states and cities also engage in intensive campaigns to plan for and promote the census surveys.
He said some government bodies in the past have hired additional staff or recruited volunteers and have developed count committees with representatives from churches, public K-12 schools, higher education institutions, veterans’ groups and community service organizations, among other groups.
Those committees create and implement outreach strategies to encourage people to complete surveys, something that can be challenging among certain groups that distrust the federal government or worry that information supplied will be shared with other government agencies, which is prohibited by federal law.
“The ideas are on the table. Push for state and local count committees,” Martinez said. “I have seen it work, and the winners, I can attest, have formed local count committees.”
Morris said that Roswell plans to create what he called an awareness campaign to reach as many citizens as possible.
He added that there could be both advantages and disadvantages for Roswell if the 2020 census results show 50,000 residents.
“The benefits of being over 50,000 include additional tax base, potentially more political representation and drawing the attention of the business world for new businesses to potentially locate here,” he said. “That, of course, would require adding and expanding infrastructure to support these additional folks. In addition, reaching the 50,000 mark will also require the city to meet certain (Environmental Protection Agency) stormwater discharge standards that will be expensive to construct and maintain.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.