01/07/10 — Census accuracy critical for funding eligibility

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Census accuracy critical for funding eligibility

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 7, 2010 1:46 PM

Wayne County could lose up to $2 million annually in sales tax revenues should the upcoming census fail to obtain an accurate count of the county's population, County Manager Lee Smith said.

Smith said he has heard of counties in which 15 percent of the population was missed. That would translate to between $1.5 million and $2 million in lost sales tax revenues for the county, he said.

Smith made his comments Tuesday during the commissioners' meeting after Commissioner J.D. Evans questioned what the county needed to do to help ensure an accurate census count.

"Everybody needs to be counted," Smith said.

Smith said when counters went out to make preliminary counts there were whole subdivisions and roads that were not found that amounted to about 5,000 people.

Those "errors" came back to the Panning Department, where staff worked through and resolved them, he said.

Smith said when he arrived in the county shortly after the 2000 census, whole roads and subdivisions were found that had not been counted.

"We had people who said, 'we have never been visited or contacted,'" he said. "That was a problem. I think we are on top of it. It all goes through the planner (County Planner Connie Price) and I think that he is on top of that. I think that we are doing all that we can right now, but we encourage everyone, if they have not been contacted, to give us a call and we will give them the contact information.

"Everyone needs to be counted and here is the reason -- when we have our numbers correct, the more people we have in this county, the more sales tax and federal dollars that we draw down. If we miss the number, our money goes down."

Smith said he thinks the population estimate being used in the state budget for the county is wrong.

"I think our population is higher than the state budget (figures)," he said. "We will find out. We have opportunities to object -- to say that we don't think these are correct. We are fully engaged in that process, so we are not going to let it slip by."

Mailing of census questionnaires should begin in March, and people who have not been contacted by mid-May should get in touch with the county, Smith said.

"I think a lot of people are very leery of that (census), but understand it affects your pocketbook at home because if you are not counted, we are going to lose state and federal money," he said. "Johnston County, Wake County, Mecklenburg County are going to get the money that we were owed. We want every dollar that we can get. So we want to be counted."

Smith said it is important to get the information to the public for that reason as well as for safety concerns so that people would know what was going on when the census takers knock on their doors.

It will take close to two years to complete the process that is mandated by the U.S. Constitution, he said.