Phoenix launches campaign to spur participation in census
The Arizona Republic
May. 13, 2005
Ginger D. Richardson
Phoenix officials are gearing up for a mid-decade census count, a crucial survey that could save or cost them millions in state and federal funding.

The federal government conducts a census, or a demographical survey of the country's population, every 10 years. But local and state officials have the option of doing a count halfway through the decade if they think their populations are growing.

"We already know that we are going to lose funding, but we could lose a lot more if people don't participate and return these forms," said Norris Nordvold, the city's intergovernmental affairs coordinator. "That's our biggest concern."

Here in the Valley, all cities are coordinating with the Maricopa Association of Governments to organize and conduct the survey, which will be sent out at the end of August.

A lot is at stake.

Each city's population determines its portion of state-shared revenues and helps set the amount of federal dollars it receives to provide countless services. In Phoenix, the issue is a particularly thorny one because the city's population - while still increasing - isn't growing as fast as some other municipalities, like Gilbert or Avondale.

Already, Phoenix officials are estimating they will lose between $20 million and $25 million in state shared revenues, beginning in July 2006.

The funding is a critical part of the city's overall operating budget. In fiscal 2005-06, state-revenues comprise 36.2 percent of the General Fund, the pool of money used to pay for everything from new fire trucks and police equipment, to library books and park space.

So if residents don't return their census forms, the city could lose even more money than it's anticipating.

"For every person that isn't counted in this census, Phoenix will lose thousands of dollars," Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said.

To make sure residents do return the forms, Phoenix is launching an aggressive outreach program designed to educate its population about the importance of the survey and what is at stake.

"Of all the cities and the county, we are the hardest to count," Nordvold said. "We have the greatest low-income and minority populations."

Phoenix officials are forming five subcommittees, each of which will bear the responsibility of communicating with minority groups that are typically undercounted. Those groups include the city's Hispanic and Somali populations, Nordvold said.

The count will be conducted using a statistical survey. Officials will send mailers to randomly selected households; about three out of every 20 will be asked to participate.

It will cost the county about $7 million, officials said.

If residents don't return their surveys, they will be sent a card in the mail reminding them to do so. If the city still gets no response, someone will go to the home to conduct the count.

The forms will be mailed Aug. 29, and the census is expected to be complete by Thanksgiving.

Reach the reporter at (602) 444-2474.