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Census count key to federal funds, Hall officials told

POSTED: February 24, 2009 12:37 a.m.

Hall County is already preparing for the 2010 U.S. Census.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners heard a presentation about the upcoming census at Monday’s work session.

Gerson D. Vasquez, a partnership specialist in the Atlanta Region of the U.S. Census Bureau, told commissioners getting the most accurate count of residents in 2010 will not only help bring the maximum amount of federal funds to Hall County but also create temporary local jobs.

"The Gainesville Local Census Office will initially cover 31 counties that make up (Northeast) Georgia and will employ thousands of temporary workers throughout the decennial census campaign," Vasquez said in an e-mail.

The census is conducted to accurately apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Census data is also used to direct the allocation of $300 billion annually in government funding.

For both processes to be fair, Vasquez said, the 2010 Census must count everybody, count them once and count them in the right place.

"It’s very important we get everybody counted," said Commissioner Steve Gailey.

Hall County Planning Director Randy Knighton is working with Vasquez and Gainesville Planning Director Rusty Ligon to set up "Complete Count Committees," to publicize census efforts.

The Complete Count Committee would be broken down into subcommittees representing different groups in Hall County — government, education, media, business, faith-based, community-based and recruiting.

"We’ve discussed agencies or organizations that might be helpful in that regard. What we want to do is make sure that the census subcommittees are able to work in conjunction with the overall census effort to ensure there is proper outreach and education and information disseminated throughout the entire Hall County community so that ultimately we can have as accurate a count as possible," Knighton said.

Using mail-out questionnaires as the main counting method, Vasquez said he would like to see a 70 percent response rate for Hall County. That would be above the national average of 67 percent.

In 2000, Hall County had a 66 percent response rate on the mail-out forms.

The 2010 Census questionnaire, which will be mailed in February or March of 2010, asks for name, gender, age, race, ethnicity, relationship, and whether you own or rent your home.

The 2010 questionnaire is less detailed than in the past, when additional information, such as education and income, was included.

Vasquez said the U.S. Census Bureau hopes the shorter questionnaire will be easier to fill out, which may boost participation.

Hall County’s large Latino population makes collecting census data a challenge, Vasquez said.

"Specifically, the Hispanic/Latino population is very concerned with recent national immigration concerns and debate. This has created an atmosphere of fear and distrust of governmental activities in Hispanic/Latino communities," he said.

The Census Bureau does not ask about the legal status of respondents in any of its surveys and census programs. Regardless of legal status, residents often use resources and services at the community, state and national levels, Vasquez said.

Knighton said though the county officials would like to get information from every resident, they are realistic about the difficulties.

"You have to approach it as a challenge," Knighton said. "As Hall County continues to evolve there’s a great deal of information that will result from the census numbers. You continue to learn more about a community from the data that’s provided."



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