Leader Blues

Friday, March 05, 2010

TOP STORY >> Population count could mean a lot to cities

As the 2010 census gets under way, cities are hoping to make gains and earn valuable dollars to help with infrastructure.

Some may see growth, while others may see population declines. Here’s a preview of what’s in store.

SHERWOOD

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman believes her city’s population will come close to rivaling Jacksonville’s come the 2010 census.

In her state-of-the-city address that she recently presented to the council, Hillman said estimates show the city has increased by 8,500 residents, and that will put Sherwood at the 30,000 mark.

Jacksonville, according to the 2000 census, is at 29,516, and is projected to hit above 30,000 after the census count.

Along with that growth, Sherwood also saw tax collections rise. “We were fortunate that while some surrounding cities experienced a decrease in sales tax revenues, ours increased from 2008,” the mayor said.

“The increased revenues may be contributed to streamline taxing as well as the new Walmart Supercenter.”

Hillman noted that for the second year in a row, permits for new residential and commercial construction were down, but the value of those permits was up more than $6.7 million from 2008 to 2009.

JACKSONVILLE

Metroplan research planner Jonathan Lupton told a group of Jacksonville officials recently that the city may see a slight decline in population with the 2010 census, though he is “betting on a slight increase.”

Jacksonville’s population growth slowed to a crawl when the Vertac chemical plant was declared an EPA Superfund site in the 1980s.

The population is more racially diverse, younger and has a higher proportion of males to females than the regional and national averages. But the income and educational level is below the norm, with a higher proportion of blue collar jobs.

“Single-parent households have really shot up,” Lupton said.

If Jacksonville wants to attract young professionals, city planners need to understand that there are three types of places important in life: places to live, places to work and places to hang out, said planner Jasmine Moore.

That resonated with Mayor Gary Fletcher.

“That is a niche we need to work on,” Fletcher said. “Not everyone is like me – 55 and who at the end of the day is ready to go home and watch television and then go to sleep at 10 o’clock.”

Another challenge is that Jacksonville has little in the way of housing that would attract younger people with income to spend on a nice home. More of the homes are cramped, older and of modest value, compared to other communities in central Arkansas. Finding a way to “retrofit” small houses to be competitive in today’s market may be a solution, Lupton said.

Walkable neighborhoods with a mix of homes, shopping and other amenities are the trend.

Jacksonville’s $76,500 median home value is well below the national average of $119,600 and those of other regional cities, such as Little Rock-North Little Rock at $87,700 and Conway at $99,900, Lupton said.

The Metroplan team did not raise the prospect of an independent school district for Jacksonville.

“That is one of the biggest things we have going for us, and it will really change the demographics,” Fletcher said.

CABOT

Eddie Jones, director of the Arkansas Association of Counties, says the formula for dispensing state turnback to counties is a complicated one that involves more than a head count. Still, the turnback is about $60 per person. But it is also important to get an accurate count because federal grants are often based on population, Jones said.

“It’s always extremely important to get a good count because you’re going to depend on those numbers for the next 10 years,” he said.

Cabot’s population was 15,261, but a special census completed early in 2007 set the population at 22,092. Now city officials estimate the population between 23,500 and 25,000. Finding out which one will be free. The special census that started in 2006 cost the city almost $300,000.

BEEBE

The population signs in Beebe say 4,930, but Mayor Mike Robertson said he would be surprised if the census doesn’t show an increase of more than 2,000. Robertson said he is looking forward to the additional funds for streets.

“All cities are struggling for money for streets,” he said. “Streets take a backseat to fire and police.”

The lack of money for streets is the reason Beebe has not attempted another annexation like the one in November 2006 that more that doubled the city’s area but brought in only a few new residents, he said. Construction of new homes is the reason for the population growth.

LONOKE

With 2010 U.S. Census forms already in the mail, Lonoke Mayor Wayne McGee hopes the new count will grow the city “by a couple of hundred or three,” he said Thursday.

Each person counted is worth about $1,000 a year, McGee said, meaning 200 additional residents over the official count of 4,287 in 2000 would translate into an additional $200,000 a year in city coffers in federal funding—or about $2 million over the decade until the next census.

McGee said the money will go into the city’s general budget and that the city would be sending reminders to residents with their water bills to fill out the 10-question forms and return them in the postage-paid envelopes.

“It would be nice to get (the population count) closer to 5,000 people,” McGee said.

“There’s very little that has to do with family that isn’t affected by the census count,” he said.

The 2000 census counted about 72 percent of all U.S. residents. Lonoke counted 73 percent, Lonoke County 71 percent and statewide 67 percent were counted.

The census is “absolutely important” to counties, according to Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman. He was at an Association of Arkansas Counties meeting in North Little Rock Thursday, where he said the 2010 census was an important conversation.

“It amounts to about $600 a year for each individual counted,” Troutman said. “It’s a numbers game in state and federal turn back,” he said.

“The last census was about 53,000. In my opinion, it’s grown about 10,000 in 10 years. You’re talking about a lot of money after a while.”

A growth of 10,000 people in the county would provide another $60 million to county general funds over the next decade, he said.

The 2000 census found not only 4,287 people in Lonoke, but also 1,595 households and 1,092 families in the city.

The population density was 990 people per square mile, with 1,703 house units.

The city was about 73 percent white, 23 percent black and about 2 percent Hispanic or Latino of any race.

A third of households had children younger than 18 living with them. Fifty percent were married couples living together and 14 percent had a female head of household with no husband present. About 32 percent were nonfamilies, 29 percent were individuals and 15 percent had someone living alone who was 65 or older.

The median income for a household was $31,558 and for a family was $44,423.

Men out-earned women by roughly one-third.

WARD

Home construction has also made Ward grow from 2,580 in 2000 to an estimated 3,600. Although large homes are built in Ward and Austin, the homes available in those cities are generally smaller than those available in Cabot where the high cost of land combined with the economic downturn has led to a decline in new home construction.

AUSTIN

Austin Mayor Bernie Chamberlain can identify with that statement. The population signs going into Austin say 605, but six subdivisions have been built there since the 2000 census and Chamberlain estimates the actual population at 2,000 to 2,500.

Using the lower estimate, Chamberlain expects about $90,000 a year in additional state revenue for the next 10 years for a total of $900,000.

“I just can’t wait for the census to be done,” Chamberlain said. “We’re going to fix roads.”
In fact, she already knows that it will cost $100,000 a mile for asphalt overlay and $40,000 a mile for chip and seal.

CENSUS REQUIRED

The census is required by Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution and it must by law count every person residing in the U.S., including people of all ages, races, ethnic groups, citizens and non-citizens including illegal immigrants.

In an effort to get a higher rate of participation, the questionnaire will be one of the shortest in history.

It asks for name, gender, age, race, ethnicity, relationship and whether the home is owned or rented. Census officials say it will take only about 10 minutes to complete.

Households failing to return the questionnaire will be sent a second questionnaire and a census worker will visit those don’t respond to that. The fine for failing to complete the questionnaire can be up to $100 and the fine for lying can be as high as $500.

CENSUS MYTHBUSTERS

In March, forms will be mailed throughout the U.S. kicking off the 23rd national census.

Should anyone question why they should fill out and return the forms, here are some myths and facts about the census, provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, that may not be widely known:

MYTH No. 1: Information from the census form will be given to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

TRUTH: The Census Bureau is interested in statistical information only. The questionnaire collects information on the number of people in a location, their ethnicity, housing situation, and other social and economic data. That information is then processed electronically and any information that could be used to identify an individual or company is removed before it is made public. Title 13 of the U.S. Code protects the confidentiality of all your information and violating this law is a crime with severe penalties.

MYTH No. 2: The census form is too long and asks too many personal questions.

TRUTH: The 2010 census form is very short and will only take about 10 minutes to answer. There are questions regarding your name, sex, age, date of birth, race, ethnicity, household relationship, number of occupants and other administrative questions.

MYTH No. 3: It’s OK if I choose not to fill out the census form.

TRUTH: Section 221 of Title 13, Chapter 7 of the U.S. Code requires people receiving a census form to fill it out completely and return it by April 1. It also stipulates the penalties for failing to do so, as stated in Myth No. 1. If you do not return your census form by April 1 census workers will contact you to assist in completing the questionnaire.

MYTH #4: The census is only for U.S. citizens. - FALSE

TRUTH: Conducted every 10 years, the census is a headcount of everyone residing in the United States. The U.S. Constitution mandates it.

MYTH No. 5: The census information won’t help me.

TRUTH: All census data is used to distribute congressional seats to states, to make decisions about what community services to provide, and to distribute more than $400 billion in federal funds to local, state and tribal governments each year.