Census count on the horizon

MCT graphic

By Eric Butler: Freedom New Mexico

The year is winding its way to an end and 2010 is right around the corner. For many in the state who are aware of the importance of numbers, that means one very important thing: It’s time for a new census.

Though many population estimates are taken in between, the official census takes place only once every 10 years.

Officials at the U.S. Census Bureau in Albuquerque are currently collecting and verifying addresses in order to mail out questionnaires in March.

“The census count is very important for our community (Portales) and it’s important for it to get out to the rural communities and find these people,” said Greg Fisher, director of the Roosevelt County Community Development Corporation. “It’s important because there’s dollars attached to the people they find.”

In the last official census, taken in 2000, Clovis was listed with a city population of 32,667 while Portales had 11,131 official residents.

“It may just show a little bit of an increase, based upon the growth projects of the base,” said Chase Gentry, executive director of the Clovis Industrial Development Corporation, conjecturing on the results of the next census.

At the state census bureau office, media liaison Veronica Reyes said staffers have been in place for a year and volunteers will be lined up to do home-to-home canvassing in the spring for those who haven’t answered their questionnaires.

“Every year, the government is distributing $400 billion and that’s based upon the population,” Reyes said. “The money goes to schools, hospitals, clinics, so we need to make sure that everyone is counted.”

In the last census, Reyes said 68 percent of those who received the census by mail responded. She’s hoping New Mexico’s figures in that area can go up by ten percent this time.

One of the biggest problems for an accurate count are people who fear repercussions for simply filling out the forms.

Reyes said the census is strictly confidential and that it “doesn’t get shared with immigration or police.”

“That’s a challenge for us,” she said. “The constitution mandates that we count everyone — regardless of citizenship or legal status. There’s no question on there as to whether they’re a citizen or not.”

While community leaders hope for a population increase, Gentry said even a decrease isn’t something that would necessary crush a city’s hopes for attracting business or industry.

“At first glance, it might. If it showed a decrease though, we could explain that,” Gentry said. “We always have to explain our market. The thing is, we draw from a 60-mile radius.”