County Courthouse 2019

Several county offices in and around the Athens County Courthouse could be moved, including the Sheriff’s Office (smaller building at far right). Photo by Conor Morris.

Editor's note: You can fill out the Census online by clicking this link.

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The 10-year U.S. Census count is coming to Athens County, and the county and its communities could face serious  financial consequences if insufficient local residents take the Census survey.

Chief among the consequences of not getting an accurate count of the county’s residents? The county, its communities and local public institutions could miss out on hundreds of thousands of federal and state grant dollars and other programs that provide funding based on population size.

That’s why it’s so important for people to complete the Census survey, county Commissioner Chris Chmiel said earlier this month.

“Basically, it’s worth billions of dollars, and it is going to impact our region – well, every region – for the next 10 years,” Chmiel said. “It’s just critical on that level. That includes funding for stuff like public transportation, education… (Federal) Pell Grants…”

The stakes are even higher in Nelsonville to get all citizens to take the Census survey this year. The city had 5,392 residents according to the 2010 Census, with an estimated 70 percent participation rate in the Census that year, Nelsonville Auditor Taylor Sappington said Monday. If the city ends up dipping below 5,000 residents due to a low Census count, it will be downgraded from status as a “city” to a “village,” losing significant potential state, federal and other funding.

By April 1, every home across the country should receive an invitation to participate in the Census, and after that happens, people should respond online, by phone or by mail.

One of the main tools to increase the response rate for Census surveys is for the federal government to hire Census takers to go door-to-door starting in April and May this year to visit those who have yet to take the Census to make sure they get counted.

Aaron Dagres, partnership specialist for the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Census Bureau, said that the Census is hiring roughly 700 to 800 people alone in Athens County for temporary part-time and full-time jobs relating to the Census, with the minimum pay in Athens County starting at more than $16 an hour. Anyone interested in applying to those jobs can go to https://2020census.gov/en/jobs.html.

Chmiel said the Athens County Counts committee, which he chairs, has other programming planned as well to spread the word about the benefits of the Census.

One of the big populations in Athens County that typically is undercounted during the Census is college students, Chmiel explained.

“The lowest response rate in the state of Ohio was city of Athens off-campus students the last time the Census happened (in 2010),” Chmiel said.

With that in mind, a group of OU students – who are members of OU’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) – are working on an informational campaign called “Bobcats, Get on the Map.” According to a release on OU’s website about the effort, the students just held a Census “awareness panel” on Tuesday.

The release notes that for every person not counted in the 2010 Census, $1,206 was lost in Ohio (likely referring to federal or state grant dollars or other public funding).

The Bobcats, Get on the Map group also is hosting an Open Mic Night at 9 on Tuesday, March 3 at Donkey Coffee and a “Census Awareness” Twitter chat at 8 p.m. on March 4 via the Twitter account @bobcatsonthemap.

SAPPINGTON said that Nelsonville faces somewhat of a “perfect storm” of factors that typically serves to reduce Census turnout, having a large population of impoverished people, college students living in rental units and the elderly.

Bearing that in mind, he and others wanted to remind residents of some important basics about the Census.

Specifically, Dagres said people’s personal information reported in the Census survey is never reported to law enforcement or other agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Dagres said that Census officials take a lifetime oath to protect the personal information they receive through the Census survey, violation of which carries with it up to a $250,000 fine and five years in jail.

“None of the data can ever be traced back to a specific individual or a specific location,” Dagres said.

Dagres explained that one common fear from some people living in rental properties is that if more people are living in a home than are allowed in a lease, they might get in trouble if they accurately fill out the Census survey, which asks how many people are living in their home. Dagres assured that that information will not make it back to their landlord or local code enforcement agencies or law enforcement. 

As mentioned above, every home should receive an invitation to participate in the Census as of April 1, and soon after, Census takers will visit college students, people living in senior centers, and others who live among large groups of people to ensure those groups take the Census survey.

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