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Town has census troubles

April 04, 2000|By BRENDAN KIRBY

SMITHSBURG - Why have so few residents of this town mailed back their census forms?

Just ask Mayor Tommy Bowers.

"I didn't even get my form yet," he said.

He is not alone.

According to census officials and interviews with residents, many people who live in the downtown area did not receive a census questionnaire. It could be one of the reasons why only 41 percent of the town's residences - the lowest proportion of any town in Washington County - have mailed in census forms.

The Census Bureau mailed the forms to millions of homes throughout the country last month.

Homes with post office boxes received hand-delivered questionnaires.

Many people in the older sections of Smithsburg, however, did not get forms.

Wayne Kline, the regional office manager for the Census Bureau, said he does not know why that is. Perhaps it was a computer glitch, he said.

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They all will eventually be counted when census counters make door-to-door visits in the next few months, Kline said. Anyone who has not received a form can call 1-800-471-9424.

Bowers said he worries Smithsburg will be shortchanged.

"It's not even going to be close to an accurate count," he said.

Several residents of West Water Street expressed surprise that they never got forms.

"We were in Maine about three weeks ago, and they were on every doorknob," said Kaye Duncan.

Duncan said it should not hurt the town in the end, "as long as they know we're here."

Several residents said they have just as much civic pride as other Washington County towns, just not as many census forms.

"I'd have filled it out if I had gotten one," said David G. Bussard.

Mildred Clark said she is home all of the time.

"And I wouldn't miss anyone, as you can hear," she said, motioning toward her frantically barking dog.

Smithsburg has experienced other problems with the census.

Bowers said town officials have not been able to convince officials at the Census Bureau regional headquarters in Philadelphia about the town's addresses.

The agency sent a list of addresses it had on file about a year ago. The town sent back a list with about 880 addresses that were not on the list.

Town Secretary-Treasurer Betsy Martin said many of those homes, which are in the Whispering Hills section of town, have been built since the last census in 1990. She said census officials informed the town that parts of Byron Drive and Amanda Drive are not in the "review area."

Kline said that merely means that the bureau has to update its records. He said it will not cost the town population.

"We don't change the boundaries," he said. "If they live in the corporate limits of a town or city, it's counted in the town or city."

Bowers called the situation a "typical federal government boondoggle."

"Of course, they know better in Philadelphia," he said. "I just laugh at them."

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