Each person counted in Portage County this year is worth about $700 in federal funds.
A complete census in the county could bring in $105.5 million in federal funds during the next decade to improve public facilities and services. The dollar figure will be more if the population is found to be more than 150,700, an estimated figure projected by the Ohio Department of Development and based on 1990 census figures.
According to some Portage township officials, the number of county residents is likely to be more than 150,700 in 2000 because the population was undercounted in 1990.
Becky Carter, Randolph Township clerk, said she and Gary Harrison, a township maintenance technician, drove every road in the township last summer and found the census had come up short a decade ago.
"We found over 940 homes that were not listed (by the census), and we know in 10 years we have not had that big of a building rush," Carter said.
She thinks many homes were overlooked because they have Alliance or Rootstown mailing addresses or use U.S. Post Office boxes, where census forms are not sent. Other homes were in trailer parks and apartment complexes, places the U.S. Census Bureau tends to miss.
Ravenna Township Trustee Mel Cole said he has no way of knowing if the local population was undercounted in 1990, but he and a complete count committee have discovered hundreds of new homes that were not listed with the Census Bureau.
Cole and Carter record the addresses of the homes they find in their respective areas and send them to the bureau, which takes on the responsibility of delivering forms to the residences. The bureau tries its best to get to everybody because so much federal funding is at stake.
A suspected undercount in the city of Streetsboro in the previous census may have lost it hundreds of dollars for each person missed.
"When there's a mistake like that, you have to live with it for 10 years until they do (the count) again, so we want to make sure it's accurate this time," said Linda Kovacs of the Streetsboro mayor's office.
Windham Township has had similar problems; an informal trustee poll revealed more homes than were counted 10 years ago, said Suzanne Viebranz, the township clerk. Windham's circumstance seems to reflect a broad trend of undercounts in rural areas.
"(Enumerators) go door -to-door in the villages and in the cities where they can just pop door-to-door-to-door. ... They rely more on the mail in the rural areas," Viebranz said.
The problem with mailed forms is that many people don't send them back.
"They don't like the technical and rather personal questions, especially on the long form, ... (or) they want their privacy and they just don't trust the government office doing anything," said Carter.
Census Bureau information is protected by law; neither other government agencies nor private citizens have access to individuals' records or names.
"If Gary and I give out even an address, we could be fined (up to $5,000)," Carter said.
But she knows some people will remain hesitant to answer personal questions, which on the long form includes more than 30 inquiries about topics such as income, employment and education.
"If nothing else, just do the numbers. If you don't want to fill out an item, don't. The numbers are what we're looking for," Carter said.
Carter encourages people to complete the forms because federal funding hinges on population counts.
"We use (census figures) quite a bit when I'm developing grant applications," said Marie Stehli, Mantua Township clerk. Based on a population count, Mantua has received several hundred thousand dollars of Ohio Issue II grant money that has been used to pave roads.
While sheer numbers may be most important for funding, other statistical information can affect vital public services. Census figures are essential when doling out money for road repair, school improvements, community centers and housing assistance.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development needs to know things like income levels of city residents and the percentage of minorities within a city to determine whether to fund a project, and cities need census data to justify their fund requests, said Gary Locke, plans administrator for the city of Kent.
Locke said statistics derived from the census are crucial to city planning and to the redrawing of the boundary lines of wards.
Overall, officials can't think of one good reason not to fill out a census form.
"(If people don't send back their census forms), they're only hurting themselves. If they have children in school there won't be as much money for the child's education. There's nothing in a census that's going to harm anyone personally. It just has an impact on the financial resources available for lots of things," Viebranz said.
Most townships and cities offer assistance filling out census forms. They can answer questions and supply non-English speakers with forms written in their native languages. Call your township or city hall for the days and hours volunteers are available to help. Questions also may be directed to the Census Bureau toll-free helpline: (800) 471-9424.
The bureau continues to seek census takers and office clerks. Most municipalities hold hours in which interested parties may apply for census jobs. Application requires taking a basic skills test. Call your local government building or the bureau toll-free at (888) 325-7733 to find out how, where and when to apply.