Officials work for accuracy in census

Skipped households mean less federal aid

April 04, 1999|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

With the 2000 census on the horizon and federal dollars at stake, local officials are scrambling to make sure every household in Carroll County is on the U.S. Census Bureau's street address list.

In recent months, county planners and town leaders have been poring over Census Bureau data and going door to door, double-checking the federal agency's address list.

"The pre-review is an exhaustive process that requires a lot of man-hours, and requires employees to pore over data," said Steven C. Horn, county planning director. "It took us days, with assistance from the county's permits and inspections office, to check the data."

The planning department found 4,333 errors in the federal data, according to Jean Joiner, bureau chief of planning. Included in that figure were 3,902 households the Census Bureau had missed. Most of those houses had been built after 1990, the last year the census was taken.

For jurisdictions like Carroll, one of the fastest-growing counties in the state, correcting the federal data is a cumbersome process. Howard County, where development is also rapid, has experienced similar challenges. Planning officials there found more than 10,000 flaws in the Census Bureau's address list.

"About half of the errors were addresses they had missed. The other half were minor mistakes, such as ZIP code errors," said Roselle George, chief of research for Howard County's Department of Planning and Zoning.

The constitutional purpose of the census, which is taken every 10 years, is to apportion House seats among the states. But the numbers also are used to redistrict state legislative and other constituencies, and to distribute about $182 billion a year in federal aid.

In Carroll, several programs for elderly and disabled residents receive funding based on population figures. The county's Business and Employment Resource Center also relies on demographic data for federal aid.

"It's important to have accurate demographic information because we use that information to support the county's grant requests," said county spokeswoman Maggy MacPherson. "Many grants specifically target a certain portion of the population, especially those related to citizen services programs."

The 1990 census missed an estimated 1.4 percent of the nation's population. To avoid such errors in the 2000 census, Rep. Dan Miller, a Florida Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform census subcommittee, has proposed hiring at least 100,000 additional census-takers to work exclusively in areas most difficult to count. He has also called for a system in which mayors and other local officials review and check census numbers before they are final.

Sykesville officials recently canvassed the town of nearly 1,300 households to double-check the Census Bureau's street address lists. The work took about 15 hours to complete, according to town manager Matthew H. Cand- land. He is hoping the effort pays off.

"The Census Bureau had missed several subdivisions on the west side of town, including Hawk Ridge Farms, Shannon Run, Boulder Hill and Carroll Fields," Candland said. "It's understandable, considering we've probably had 300 to 400 new houses built in the past six years."

Candland said the town relies on accurate census data for a number of reasons.

"Of course, we rely on it for funding -- so many funding sources base their decisions on population, and the source they go to is the census -- but the census provides a lot more than just population numbers," Candland said. "It gives demographic information, which is just as important to our town. It gives us information about what our town looks like. It tells us who lives in our town, what they look like and the kind of jobs they have.

"That data helps us address the needs of the community and market the town for economic development."

Throughout the county, officials are checking the federal address list. The Census Bureau has sent lists to county officials and town leaders in north, south and central Carroll. The western part of the county, including Union Bridge, New Windsor and Taneytown, will receive its portion of the list soon.

"We're going to continue to work with the Census Bureau so that the census is accurate," Horn said. "In the competition for funds, we want to be sure Carroll gets its fair share."

Pub Date: 4/04/99

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