Georgia town leads census appeal

Their jaws fell when officials in Chester, Georgia heard that the 2020 census had nailed their small town with 525 people. They believed the town was almost three times its size and were afraid that inaccurate numbers could force them to cut their budgets.

“I said,’Oh, that’s not right,'” said city clerk Melanie McCook. “The first thing I thought was,’This will have a big impact on our bottom line.'”

Chester and two other small local governments in Georgia are the first communities in the United States to challenge the accuracy of numbers from once in a decade. There are few challenges to successHowever, the results could determine whether Chester, Glenville City, and White County will gain a fair share of the $ 1.5 trillion annual distribution of federal funds.

At the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, White County officials were stunned that the county had 28,003 inhabitants, according to the 2020 census. The Census Bureau estimates in 2019 that the county has a population of 30,798. The county is home to the town of Helen, which attracts tourists modeled after the alpine villages of Bavarian.

According to an analysis by the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission, a non-profit organization that provides planning support to local communities, half the number of homes in the county census block was incorrect. In the 2020 census, the number of homes was 13,535, but according to the analysis, it should have been 15,286.

John Sel, director of the White County community, said: And economic development.

Both Glenville and Chester are home to state prisons and It has become one of the most difficult places to count Along with college dormitories, nursing homes, and military barracks, as the coronavirus spread nationwide during the critical week of the Spring 2020 census. The student came home from the campus, And prisons and nursing homes were closed when their inhabitants were to be counted.

In Georgia, prisoners are to be counted where they are imprisoned.About 12 other states Plan to count prisoners When it comes to drawing political districts, at their home address.

Due to the pandemic blockade challenges imposed on these “group quarter” counts, the Census Bureau Suggested to create another program Accept challenges to dormitories, military barracks, nursing homes and prisons. Georgia’s local civil servants are not waiting.

In Glenville, where more than one-third of the population is black, the 2020 census counted 3,834 people. The 2019 estimate is 5,066 inhabitants, and Glenville officials believe that the 1,500 prisoners in Smith State Prison were not counted, so the number of inhabitants in 2020 should exceed 5,300. It states.

“They didn’t do anything wrong. It was just an oversight. Glenville Mayor Stan Dunsby said about the prison.

Heather Feldman, Managing Director of the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission, said the pandemic and lack of reliable broadband to fill out census questionnaires created a disagreement in the number of rural Georgian areas. He said it could have been.

“Unlike many parts of the country, there were very many cases of COVID-19 in Georgia. Unlike the densely populated metropolitan areas, the counters for door-to-door surveys were not that difficult. . Reach the area of ​​the local county. “

The scope of appeals granted by the Census Bureau was narrow, skipping boundary records and housing mistakes during data processing. After the 2010 census, population and housing total revisions were made to about 1% of the country’s 39,000 governments. The census agenda does not change the number of parliamentary seats each state gets or the number used to redraw political districts.

Other communities include some university towns and Boston When Detroit.

In the case of Chester, which is halfway between Atlanta and the savanna, the 2020 census shows that the population is only 525, and if that is true, the population will decline by 67% in 10 years. .. The 2019 American Community Survey has fixed the majority of the black town’s population to 2,102, and city officials believe it has a minimum of 1,500 inhabitants.

Chester officials believe that not only the prisoners in Dodge State Prison, but also the inhabitants of the town’s homes missed the number.

Chester relies on state-owned programs because there are no large property taxes or many business taxes. In this program, the county shares sales tax with the city and taxes premiums. Both sources of income are related to Chester’s population, which spends about $ 350,000 a year on its operations, but struggles to adjust to a smaller number than expected, despite seeking adjustments. doing.

“It was a budget nightmare for me. I don’t know when this will be resolved,” said McCook, a city official in Chester. “For the time being, we only spend money on the necessities you absolutely must have. We hope it will be resolved before we make significant budget cuts.”


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