Leader Blues

Friday, March 19, 2010

TOP STORY >> Census uses technology for counting

Leader staff writer

Sherwood officials are worried about hundreds of census forms Sherwood residents have received with North Little Rock addresses.

There’s also Gravel Ridge. Many residents in that community, annexed last year by Sherwood, are receiving census forms with Jacksonville addresses on them, and many residents living in north Pulaski County are getting census forms with Cabot addresses.

What town or city gets to count those people and does it make a difference?

Nationally, there are roughly $447 billion in federal distributions at stake this year as Americans respond to the 2010 census.

The results of the decennial headcount will determine future budgets, legislative redistricting and key decisions on highways, schools, health facilities and much more, according to the Brookings Institute.

Each person a city counts is worth about $1,000 to $1,500 times ten years. “So it’s important that we count everyone and count him or her properly,” said Norwood Seymour, partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, working his fourth census.

Jim Durham, Jacksonville director of administration and point man for the city’s census efforts, says the address on the form is for mailing purposes only and that people will be counted based on current corporate boundaries through the use of a geographic information system (GIS), a system that captures, stores, analyzes, manages, and presents data that are linked to location.

“At least that’s what we were told at our meetings in Little Rock,” Durham said.

But Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman isn’t taking any chances.

The city has sent out about 11,000 postcards, at a cost of around $2,500, asking city residents whose census forms contain a North Little Rock or Jacksonville address to cross out the address and write in Sherwood.

Seymour said the U.S. Census had people out in the field last summer with GPS and geo-coding equipment marking homes and city boundaries. “It’s about the house, not the address,” he explained. But still Seymour recommends marking through the postal mailing address and putting in the right city and zip code.

“But don’t mark through the bar code,” he warned. “That can cause problems reading the form.”

Durham said with the GIS tools, a resident would get counted appropriately even if a street was split between two cities.

Sherwood wants to get all of its residents counted, as it expects to see close to a 40 percent increase in its population. In 2000, the census showed Sherwood had 21,511 residents.

City officials are expecting that to be about 8,500 higher in this census count. Sherwood was counted for the first time in 1950 and had a population of 717.

In 2000, census records put Cabot’s population at 15,261. But by 2005, city officials knew it was thousands above that. A special census in 2006 showed the population increased by more than 6,000 to 22,092, which added $1.3 million to the city’s coffers.

Durham said recent estimates put the city’s population around 34,000. Jacksonville residents were first counted in the 1950 census, which showed a city population of 2,474. The 2000 census showed a population of 29,916.

Lonoke residents were first counted in 1880 and at that time the city had a population of 659. In 2000, that population had grown to 4,287.

Ward was first counted in the 1930 census and had a population of 275. In the 2000 census, the population had grown to 2,580.

The census information also affects the numbers of seats a state holds in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Plus, people from many walks of life use census data to advocate for causes, prevent diseases, research markets, locate pools of skilled workers and more.

Residents not returning a census form will most likely be visited by census workers later this month or in April.