Sunday, January 09, 2000

Census count important

Getting 5,000 to mail it is crucial goal in Lincolnd Heights, St. Bernard

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The push is on to make sure people across the Tristate get counted in the 2000 census this spring. At stake are billions of state and federal dollars.

        Lincoln Heights, a village since the 1990 census pegged its population at 4,805, hopes the 2000 count will make it a city again by showing its population above the required 5,000.

        And St. Bernard wants to keep its city status. Although the 1990 census placed its population at 5,344, the latest two-year estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau showed a decline to 4,835.

  • Census forms should arrive in the mail mid-March.
  • Everyone will receive a short form that should take an estimated 10 minutes to fill out. It asks for name, sex, age, relationship, Hispanic origin, race, and housing.One in six households will get the long form with more detailed questions. It should take an estimated 38 minutes to complete.
  • People are asked to return the forms by mail by April 1.
  • People who don't return forms will get a reminder in the mail. After that, counters will visit individual dwellings.
  • Questionnaire Assistance Centers will open in communities to help people fill out their forms. People with questions also can call a toll-free number provided on the form.
  • By law, the Census Bureau cannot share answers with others, including welfare agencies, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Internal Revenue Service, courts, police and the military. Anyone who breaks this law can receive up to five years in prison and $5,000 in fines.
  For more information about the census in Greater Cincinnati, call these local numbers:
  • City of Cincinnati, 381-5908
  • Cincinnati North, 985-6500
  • Hamilton, 881-2100
  • Covington, (606) 491-4306.

        Both communities will launch campaigns to encourage as many people as possible to fill out the mailed census forms they'll receive in March and to return them by April 1.

        One difference between villages and cities is a tougher time getting grants and loans.

        “Because there are more people, cities are eligible to compete for more money,” said Joanne Anderson, a former Lincoln Heights councilwoman who has worked on her local census campaign. “If we're reporting 4,500 people and we've really got 6,000, then we've left out 1,500 people that we can ask the government for money for.”

        Census counts are used to decide a variety of things, from the number of seats in state legislatures to how many state and federal dollars go to local governments for highways, schools, housing and jobs.

        Cincinnati was under-counted by 3.1 percent in 1990 and lost an estimated $40 million in state and federal dollars, according to a U.S. Conference of Mayors survey. Covington was short by 8.8 percent and lost an estimated $13 million.

        Kentucky does not have population requirements for city designations.

        Lincoln Heights officials could not estimate how much money their community might have lost when it went from a city to a village.

        Councilman Guy Westmoreland and Village Manager Herman Dantzler describe applying for funds through the state and county. As a city, they said, Lincoln Heights

        could apply directly to funding sources.

        The biggest differences between cities and villages are structural, said Susan Cave, executive director of the Ohio Municipal League. Cities may have their own health districts, are subject to the state's collective bargaining law when dealing with employees, and bear responsibility for things such as care of more state roads in their jurisdictions.

        “A city is just looked at as a more sophisticated unit of government,” Ms. Cave said. “For example, if you want to have an aggressive economic development program and try to recruit companies, companies will look at a city over a village. The perception is there that (a village is) a rural area, and sometimes that will place you in a little different spot on the priority list.”

        For Lincoln Heights, a community struggling with a low tax base, economic development is key.

        “We need something,” said Mayor Shirley Salter. “If city status could allow some funds to flow in here to do something to save our people, it would be good for our children.”

        St. Bernard residents, meanwhile, want to hold on to what they have. Changing to a village would mean restructuring parts of the community's government, from administration to council, Census Administrator Timothy Bollmer said.

        Beyond that, residents simply want to remain as they are.

        “We can't go into people's homes and fill out the forms for them, but we just want to make sure people know the importance of not losing our city status,” Mr. Bollmer said. “That's very important to St. Bernard.”

        Officials in both places said they think they had well above the 5,000 people required to be a city.

        Lincoln Heights' response rate in the 1990 census was 71 percent, said Steve Sievers, a planner with the Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission and a member of Hamilton County's Complete Count Committee. St. Bernard's response rate was 77 percent. The national average was 65 percent.

        In addition to the Census Bureau's $164 million national advertising campaign, both communities are developing their own efforts at getting more people to participate. Strategies discussed so far include publicizing the census in churches and schools, said Councilwoman LaVerne Mitchell, head of Lincoln Heights' campaign.

        Officials fear some in that community might not participate for fear of getting caught in infractions such as having too many people in subsidized housing.

        By law, individual census responses are confidential.

        “When people don't report who is living in the household, it deprives the community of money that could be used to help those same people with much-needed services,” said Ms. Anderson.


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