East Valley cities are on par with participation rates throughout the country as cities, towns and census workers urge residents to mail in their 2010 U.S. Census forms by Friday.
As of Tuesday, Tempe had the lowest participation rate, with 61 percent, while Chandler and Gilbert tied for the highest rates — 67 percent — in the East Valley, according to the census Web site.
Residents and city and town employees are part of “Complete Count” campaigns and committees to get the word out and answer any census questions. Census Questionnaire Assistance Centers are available throughout the Valley with workers taking questions and handing out forms.
East Valley cities and towns are hosting booths, handing out census swag with snappy sayings and urging business, neighborhood and church leaders to remind everyone to complete and turn in those forms.
Residents who don’t turn in their 10-question form by the end of the month will have census takers knocking on their doors starting May 1 to get that household counted. The more forms returned, the less it will cost taxpayers.
If 100 percent of households mailed back their forms, taxpayers would save $1.5 billion, according to Census statistics.
The Mesa census office is looking to hire more than 2,200 people to collect the information, while Valley wide about 8,000 census takers are expected to be hired for the non-response follow-up phase of the census, said Nigel Beckford, manager of the Mesa office.
“We want to be cognizant this is taxpayer money,” Beckford said. “The less people we have to send out, the better. For every questionnaire turned in, it saves each taxpayer $57.”
An accurate count helps communities get $400 billion annually to state and local governments. The more residents municipalities have, the more money they get, Beckford said.
Municipalities rely on the federal money and accurate counts to help pay for city and town services, such as police, fire, hospitals, schools, libraries and transportation.
“One-third of the entire revenue from the town comes from revenue that’s based on the census,” said Beth Lucas, a Gilbert spokeswoman. “The census is particularly important for a growing town like Gilbert.”
Gilbert is handing out glow-in-the-dark snap bracelets that say “Get counted. It’s a snap.” Gilbert libraries are giving out census bookmarks, and town employees have handed out tennis balls, Frisbees, refrigerator magnets and canvas shopping bags, all with the census message.
Gilbert is also airing a one-minute public service announcement on the town’s public access Channel 11, and a nine-minute video on YouTube and its Web site to further remind residents, Lucas said.
Each municipality is monitoring census participation rates, which are updated daily on the census Web site and give counts broken down in communities throughout the town or city.
This information is being used to target certain communities that have lower participation rates. The U.S. Census Bureau is sending out a second batch of forms to these lower participation areas in the “March to the Mailbox” campaign, which launched April 10.
Some residents may be concerned about answering the census questions, but Beckford stresses the information is confidential.
“We’re sworn office workers and we take that oath for life,” Beckford said. “We can’t divulge that information to anyone. If we do, we would get a fine of $250,000 and a five-year jail term if we violate privacy standards.”
Chandler has partnered with these neighborhoods and has been sending volunteers to community meetings to further spread the census message. Door fliers placed downtown for a housing rehab program have census information on one side, and banners are being put up in the downtown area, said Jane Poston, a city spokeswoman.
“One person has physically visited all the businesses in those (low participation) areas to talk to folks about the census,” Poston said. “We’re trying to use the trusted people to get the word out.”
Schools have census messages up on marquees. Cities and towns are hosting booths at local events.
Tempe has asked Arizona State University to help by sending out e-mails to students.
Some students are confused about whether they should turn in a form. Everyone, whether it’s seasonal residents or students from out-of-state, should fill out a form where they were physically living on April 1, said Nikki Ripley, a Tempe spokeswoman.
“Our message has been plain and simple: Please fill it out here,” Ripley said.
Tempe has signs on garbage trucks, has handed out thousands of canvas shopping bags, plastic water bottles and toy hand-clappers, and hung up two street banners with census messages, Ripley said.
Queen Creek is particularly interested in an accurate count because of the enormous growth in the town within the past 10 years, during the 2000 Census national campaign.
“If you don’t know how many people are using services, it’s really hard to anticipate needs,” said Queen Creek spokeswoman Marnie Schubert.
“It’s really easy to fill it out,” she said. “It’s just 10 questions. Make sure you’re counted.”