State, city officials weigh in on why to return that census form

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It’s census time and amid all the hustle and bustle to stand up and be counted the US Census Bureau’s projections from the 2000 Census almost got lost in the shuffle. Since the country only counts the population once a decade, the U.S. Census Bureau routinely issues projections to help the nation’s planners and governing bodies while they wait for the next decade’s data.

Last month census projections found that Raleigh-Cary was one of the nation’s two fastest growing metros and that Wake County placed as one of the nation’s “25 fastest-growing and the 25 top numerical gainers.”

More Representation? Where?

To learn what these 2000 Census projections might mean for the state, Raleigh Public Record contacted, Bob Coats, North Carolina’s Census liaison in the Office of State Management and Budget. More people can lead to greater national representation, but as Coats stated, “the redistricting formula is a just a formula and has a lot to do with not the population, but how well your population is counted. These estimates are based on projections from the 2000 census. We won’t know until December of this year, but our challenge right now is to ensure our population is counted well. If we do not participate well, we won’t benefit. It’s as simple as that. But I think, looking at the estimates, there is a possibility we may, possibly get a fourteenth seat in the U.S. House.”

Looking a bit closer to home, Coats stated, “On the state level, it is just like the US House. The number of seats is constant but who gets the seats may fluctuate. Where the seats are apportioned depends on where the populations lie. Trends show people moving to Wake but decreasing on other parts of the state, if this is confirmed than the representation will change. I do anticipate a shift based on these figures.”

More Federal funding?

A great deal of federal funding is directed using census data and Coats recalls that, “A report from the GAO in December said that in fiscal year 2009 the fed allocated more than $470 billion based on the census data in some way. At the same time, we had a national population of over 307 million which breaks down to more than $1,500 per person. The stakes are high, in terms of funding for infrastructure, schools hospitals, Medicare, Medicaid, community development block grants, temporary aid to needy families, school lunch programs and much more. In terms of funding and local planning as well, and for the next 10 years, having good information to plan for the future is very important and leads the way to the funding.”

Closer to home

For the local view, RPR contacted Ken Bowers, deputy director of planning for Raleigh, to learn how the planning department made us of the metro and county projections from the 2000 Census.

As Bowers explains, the county data are more useful because, “they are the best point of comparison for the growth projections and most closely fit numbers used by the Raleigh Planning Department, the county and regional transportation planners. Bowers expanded, via e-mail, “The city, Wake County, and Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization work off the same set of spatial population projections to determine demand for schools, roads, parks, transit, and other public infrastructure. These projections are done for small units of geography known as Traffic Analysis Zones, and then aggregated together to obtain numbers for the County and municipalities.

Despite the higher numbers, Bowers sees no need to change the city’s Comprehensive Plan. “At this point, we don’t see a need for a change as these numbers are only bit higher than our original projections, but not much higher. The trends are in line for our expectation, but if growth keeps trending higher, we’d certainly take that into account. “

Stand up and be counted

With new Census data so close at hand, it appears that the latest census projections have been met with some reflection, but no major changes are being planned. And if you haven’t sent your form in by now, do it soon. As Coats said, “The only negative impact the Census can have on us is people that don’t participate. If we try to meet the needs and plan for people we don’t know are here, that is not a good thing. We need a good snapshot of the community in order to plan and serve them.”

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