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Census Day kickoff

April 01, 2000|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Washington County and Hagerstown leaders joined U.S. Census Bureau officials in front of City Farmers Market Saturday and made another appeal for residents to mail back their Census questionnaires.

April 1 was Census Day. Household information that is effective April 1 will be used to determine the country's official population and allocate political representation and federal grants for the next decade.

Census forms sent to homes throughout America last month ask people to reveal the number of people living at their address as of April 1.

Washington County Commissioner Paul L. Swartz, chairman of the county's Complete Count Committee, held up a sign that read "CENSU$."

"What that means is, counting everyone now gets us dollars," he said.

Many government grants are divided among communities based on the census. Census officials have estimated that each missed resident costs about $1,000 a year, and about $10,000 over the decade.

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Swartz had a blunt message for the consequences of missing the county's return rate goal: "If we don't hit 85 percent, we're going to have to raise taxes."

Swartz conceded those fears may be somewhat exaggerated.

Census counters will visit homes that do not return forms in an effort to get an accurate count. The amount of money a community receives depends on its official count compared with that in every other community.

Swartz and others said participation is crucial.

The more homes census counters must visit, the more expensive the cost will be, the longer the process will take and the greater the chance for inaccuracies.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said he has talked with many prominent businessmen and other active citizens who have not mailed back their census forms.

"I shake my head, and I just don't understand," he said. "It's important."

Bruchey said he got one of the long forms and it took only 10 minutes to complete.

Civic leaders held their news conference as reports from the Census Bureau showed the latest response rates in Washington County and Hagerstown exceed the national average.

Franklin and Fulton counties in Pennsylvania also have higher return rates than the national average. Three counties in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia continue to lag behind the rest of the nation, according to the census data.

"We got a real good response so far. We hoped it would be better," said Wayne Kline, the regional office manager for the Census Bureau.

Kline added that it is too early to predict whether the area will reach its goals.

Among municipalities, Guilford Township in Franklin County continues to lead the Tri-State area, with a 68 percent response rate.

The rate in Boliver, W.Va., has increased from 14 percent to 36 percent in nine days, but it still has the lowest rate in the seven-county region.

In Washington County, Boonsboro leads all cities and towns with a 64 percent return rate.

Williamsport Mayor John Slayman, a member of the Complete Count Committee, urged his fellow residents to match Boonsboro's effort.

"Come on, Williamsport, let's get out here. They're 7 points ahead of us," he said.

The Libertarian Party and several Republicans in Congress recently have criticized some of the questions on the long form as too personal and invasive. They suggested people leave intrusive questions blank.

Kline said his office has heard the same complaints from people.

"They think the government knows too much about them," he said. "That's not the case. It's a population count."

Kline said individuals' answers remain secret for 72 years.

Swartz said personal questions about income and plumbing help government determine where to administer programs for the poor and other services.

"There's a purpose behind each question," he said.

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