Friday, July 23, 2010

Feds plan last-ditch effort to count valley

Census Bureau to open temporary stations

Express Staff Writer

Census forms have been slow to arrive for many northern Wood River Valley residents, such as Sally Donart, who worried she was altogether missed.

A female census worker finally approached Donart's door, but not because Donart's house was on the census route. The worker told Donart she had driven by the road—Cottonwood Drive in the Lake Creek area north of Ketchum—many times on her way down state Highway 75 to other developments she was told to comb. But her directions never included Cottonwood, and the worker said she worried that Donart and her neighbors were being left behind.

This proactive census worker wasn't alone in her concerns that Ketchum-area homes were being missed. William Herrera, census office manager for 26 Idaho counties east of Boise, said other Ketchum workers also expressed apprehension that everyone wasn't being reached, despite persistent efforts.

For this reason, he said, the bureau will be setting up two Ketchum stations on Aug. 30 and 31 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. to provide people with census forms to be filled out there. The stations will be at the Ketchum Post Office and Ketchum City Hall.

"We just wanted to make one last effort," Herrera said.

He said this last-ditch effort is unusual and hasn't been done before in Ketchum, but Ketchum is in no way usual.

Census forms are usually mailed to residences, but Sun Valley and Ketchum only have P.O. boxes. The problem is P.O. boxes aren't included in census mailings. This rule is in place because residents aren't required to have boxes and could easily be missed in census counting. And other residences may have more than one P.O. box.

To overcome this obstacle, census workers have to walk up to the door of every apartment and home in the area to hand out forms. And this becomes harder every decade as the area grows.

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Herrera said many rural communities exist in eastern and central Idaho, much smaller than Ketchum, which present similar issues. Herrera said mail isn't directly delivered to many of these population pockets, so the U.S. Census Bureau has to send workers. And the homes may be miles and miles apart, especially in agricultural areas. Herrera said that driving to each of these properties isn't cheap or an efficient use of resources.

He said the "no P.O. boxes" rule needs to change.

"I want to be the guy that goes back to Washington, D.C., and figures this whole P.O. box thing out," he said.

But the rule is still in place, for now.

Even though many deadlines have passed since census forms started being handed out March 15, Herrera said Aug. 31 wouldn't be too late to be counted. Only one steadfast deadline matters.

"We have to have the results on the president's desk by Dec. 31," Herrera said.

The deadlines up to now were meant to keep a pace to meet this ultimate deadline.

Census forms can also be completed over the phone by calling (866) 872-6868 for English and (866) 928-2010 for Spanish.

Law requires filling out the census forms because the federal government uses the population information to allocate seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and to redistrict state legislatures. Census data also helps determine the distribution of $400 billion in federal funds to state and local governments every year, for schools, roads, health care and other critical programs. That's $4 trillion in funding between censuses taken every decade.

Trevon Milliard:

Change in participation rate

Participation rate is the percentage of census forms that residents filled out and returned. This only includes residents that received a form in the first place by either mail or a worker bringing one to their door. Those who never received a form aren't counted in participation rate at all.

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