Ready to start counting heads

Eyeing federal funds, local officials focus on accurate census

January 16, 2000|By Brenda J. Buote and Mary Gail Hare | Brenda J. Buote and Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

With the start of the 2000 census less than 90 days away and millions of federal dollars at stake, local officials are working to make sure every household in Carroll County is counted.

"The information from the census is used to support the county's grant requests for any number of programs for a whole decade," said county spokeswoman Maggy MacPherson. "That's why it's so critical to have the most accurate count possible."

MacPherson said several projects for the elderly and disabled receive funding based on population figures.

For jurisdictions such as Carroll -- one of the fastest-growing counties in the state -- ensuring accuracy is an exhaustive but worthwhile process.

"Whatever is spent in preparing and getting the word out will be returned tenfold," said Wayne Kline, who is in charge of recruiting temporary part-time workers for the Census Bureau in a five-county area that includes Carroll.

"We want no programs cut in the next 10 years. We want to get what belongs to us," said Kline.

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

Last spring, the county planning department had to correct 4,333 errors in federal census data. Maps have been revised to include all new street names.

"We want to make sure every housing unit is listed," said Alfred M. Francis Jr., a census recruiter based in Finksburg.

Included in the county's corrected figure were 3,902 households built since the 1990 census.

Kline estimated that Carroll County lost more than $7 million during the past decade because residents were not counted in the 1990 census.

"The State of Maryland estimates that in Carroll County, each person not counted was worth $373 per year," Kline said. "Think of all the things the county could have used that money for."

Kline said his aim for this year is to have at least 75 percent of census forms returned. Ten years ago, nearly 30 percent of county residents did not return their census forms.

Those who withhold the forms often fear information will be leaked to other agencies, Kline said. But he said employees of the Census Bureau are bound by law to maintain the confidentiality of all records.

"We have to educate people that not the FBI, the IRS, not even the president can get this information," said Kline.

Census workers will be trained to allay those fears. For the past month, the Census Bureau has been recruiting, administering a 30-minute written test used to hire the 60 temporary workers needed for Carroll.

"If you live in Westminster, that's where we'll want you to work," Kline said. "If I came to your house, you'd probably feel uncomfortable talking to me. But if your neighbor came, you would probably feel more comfortable."

The jobs are part time with flexible hours. Employees will be paid hourly for training and field work and compensated for mileage.

Residents can expect to receive census forms April 1, and will get a postcard several weeks before that, letting them know the forms are on the way. Those who do not respond can expect a visit from a census worker.

"It is those people who do not return the forms that our workers will be contacting," said Kline. "We want to make sure that we don't miss anybody. A lack of response just means more field work for us."

Information about the 2000 census is available by calling 888-325-7733-1.

Contributing writer Jean Marie Beall contributed to this report.

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