The City of Nelsonville has begun a recount its population, and organizers of the push are confident they can find the 5,000 residents needed to stave off reduction to village status.
The 2020 U.S. Census counted 4,612 Nelsonville residents. In 2019, the census estimated the city's population at 5,130, just above the minimum 5,000 needed to remain a city. Last week, Nelsonville officials received a proclamation from Secretary of State Frank LaRose declaring that the city will revert to village status in 30 days.
Organizers of the recount believe the discrepancy does not reflect loss of population — they say the census undercounted.
Reverting to a village could prove catastrophic, the city says. Services such as police and fire and funding for Nelsonville-York School District could all be affected by village status, the city said in releases.
At a meeting last week, Nelsonville City Auditor Taylor Sappington said he had up to five days from the city council vote to identify volunteers who will serve as enumerators for the effort, according to procedures outlined in the Ohio Revised Code.
On Oct. 1, Sappington named Nelsonville City Council members Cory Taylor and Justin Booth, City Code Enforcer Becky Barber, Mallory Swaim and Kevin Dotson as enumerators.
Sappington and volunteers have until Oct. 11 to conduct the recount in an attempt to find Nelsonville residents. Within these 10 days, the enumerators must also review and certify collected data. Volunteers will mostly be collecting the names and addresses of residents.
Sappington said he is “thrilled” by the response he’s seen from the Nelsonville and county community to support the effort. On Monday, the city held a community dinner sponsored by the Rotary Club and the Nelsonville Area Chamber of Commerce to raise awareness for the recount.
“We’ve been really impressed with the number of folks who've come out to assist and volunteer,” Sappington said.
Barber said she has been canvassing Nelsonville, and said she’s discovered numerous people who did not take the census for one reason or another.
“I am excited about the progress, some of the folks did not complete the census and a little bit of education turns them around,” Barber said.
She said when she explains to residents that Nelsonville Fire Department could be reduced to volunteer status, or that roads or other infrastructure could be affected, they are eager to provide details to the collectors.
She said some people have recognized what the canvassers were doing before they were approached and enthusiastically gave their responses. Barber cited a mass public-information campaign from the city to spread awareness about the effort.
She added residents might feel more comfortable with local information collectors rather from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Maybe it's because we have the same accent, we’re on they’re level,” Barber said. “They know the locals are out doing it for their community, maybe they feel more trust.”
Booth said the entire community has turned out for the collection effort. He added that as of last night, the the collection was approaching 4,000 names with five days left in the process.
“The police department, the street department, utilities, everyone is pitching in,” Booth said.
Barber said confidence that there are more than 5,000 residents in Nelsonville is driving the large outpouring of support for the recount.
“I feel confident, I really do — and my group feels confident it helps us get out the door,” Barber said.
Sappington said Nelsonville has more than 5,000 residents, but the effort’s success is contingent on completing the count in the “ridiculous” 10 day time frame set by the state.
“I believe we can and will make it — it's just a matter of whether 10 days is enough time,” Sappington said.