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Local Census response low

Despite incentives offered by the City of Andalusia encouraging local residents to complete their 2010 Census forms, the local response rate has been low.

Participation rates reported by the U.S. Census Bureau this week showed that 72 percent of all Alabamians have completed the forms, but Covington County participation was only 47 percent. Inside the City of Andalusia, the rate was 51 percent. Opp has had 60 percent participation and Florala 37 percent.

Last month, the City of Andalusia announced two incentives to encourage local participation.

First, the city district that reports the largest percentage of increase in population will receive free garbage service for a month.

Secondly, the city has set up a “barrel” in the utilities drive-thru during office hours. Andalusia residents have a chance to win cash by bringing the envelope in which they received their Census form and dropping it off labeled with their name, address and phone number.

Three envelopes will be drawn at the end of the Census process, and prizes of $200, $300 and $500 will be given away.

“We’re going to take it on faith that these people have completed their Census form and mailed it in because we believe so strongly about what the Census can mean for Andalusia,” Mayor Earl Johnson said when announcing the incentives.

But this week, Johnson said there has been a problem with people just dropping their completed Census and envelope in the barrel.

“All we can do with that is put it in the mail,” he said. “We can’t open the envelopes.”

The Census results are critically important to Alabama, Covington County, and local municipalities because most federal and state grants are tied to population numbers. Local participation is more critical in light of a report released last week showing Covington County as part of three rural areas in the state that appears to be losing population.

According to Annette Watters, manager of the Alabama State Data Center at The University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research, counties with both net outmigration and more deaths than births between 2008 and 2009 were clustered into three areas; the east central (Clay, Randolph, Coosa, Tallapoosa, Chambers and Macon counties); the upper west central (Marion, Winston, Lamar, Fayette, Walker and Pickens counties) and the central south (Butler and Covington counties).

“All of these are rural, small population counties whose economies have been affected by the recent downturn,” Watters said. “When more people die than are born in a county, it is possibly because the people that would be young parents are moving away.”

“These numbers are not the results of the census that is being taken right now,” Watters said. “These are estimates that we will have to use until we get our new results from the 2010 census.  These estimates cover through the year 2009.

“When people move into a county, they can be either people moving there from another county or state, or they can be recent movers to the United States.

International immigration is a significant factor in the population change of many Alabama counties,” Watters said. “Quite a few have seen population loss among domestic residents, but concurrently have had gains from international residents. The large counties of Mobile, Montgomery and Jefferson fit that description, as do the small counties of Franklin and Walker.”

While the Census Bureau encouraged all residents to return their forms by April 1, the bureau will continue to accept 2010 census questionnaires by mail through mid-April. Beginning May 1, census workers will begin going door to door to households that failed to mail back their forms — a massive operation that costs taxpayers an average of $57 per household versus the 42 cents it takes to get a response back by mail.

Johnson said he’s heard from some people who haven’t received a census form. If you have not received a form, call the following toll-free number: 1-866-872-6868.