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MJ scrambles to snag reluctant census participants

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Could lose bucketload of money

Fear of losing nearly half of Mt. Juliet's annual state-shared monies has city officials under the gun to rack up as many residents they can to participate in their special census.

Census organizers estimate as of Wednesday about half of Mt. Juliet's approximately 9,000 homes have responded to a special census implemented last September.

"A little over half responded, so we are going door to door to about 3,000 to 3,500 homes," said city Administrative Assistant Amy Rooker, who helps oversee the census.

A special census is one the city conducts between the federal census that occurs every10 years. The last federal census was in 2010, however, the last special census was conducted in 2008.

Rooker said the last census count was 25,000 people.

"We are not ready to release preliminary numbers, but we are positive it will be more than the last count," she said.

For each citizen counted, the City of Mt. Juliet receives roughly $95 per year from the State of Tennessee in "state shared revenue" that is calculated and distributed based on population. The total for Mt. Juliet at 25,000 people is a whopping $2.3 million.

This is why city officials are scrambling to get every last resident counted. With only half of households responding, the city could easily lose a million much-needed dollars that go into the general fund.

"The general fund is an account used for many different things, but two of the main sources are city roads and parks," said Rooker.

Why aren't people responding?

Citizens have had since last September to participate in the special census that simply asks how many people are in the household and their names.

Originally, the city sent postcards to the 10,000 households and urged people to go online and submit their information. Rooker said from that push there were 3,000 responses.

They next sent out a letter and stamped postcard to send back and from that there were 2,000 responses. Their last-ditch effort is going door-to-door to get participation, and Rooker said they've had a hard time.

"There has been a lot of disconnect," she said. "They simply won't give their names for whatever reason. Many are obstinate."

She noted some people don't trust the process.

Rooker said the city has made every effort to inform citizens they might get a knock on their door. Their takers will have a badge with their picture on it, and will be wearing bright yellow vests with "2015 Census Taker" written on the front. Also they will have a city issued ID.

"The names are very important because we have to prove we are not making up numbers and we cannot get children's names off of tax records," said Rooker. "We will not give out this information."

Deadline extended to Feb. 15

"We can only do what we can do," said Rooker. "I have told our individuals they have a deadline of Feb. 15 to try to get as much possible. Then we are going to regroup and try to hit the homes with no answers again."

Once the city has gotten as much information as possible, the information will be verified by an outside source. This certification process takes about a week and will be done around the first of May.

"They pretty much make sure we are giving them correct names and number in the household," said Rooker. "After the certification is complete, we will release the official number."

This should be late May. Officials estimate the cost to conduct the special census could be as high as $35,000.

"For each person we fail to count as a City of Mt. Juliet resident, funding that can go toward providing important services is routed to other Tennessee municipalities, rather than our own," said Rooker. "Collecting the proper amount of state funding increases our ability to continue the level of services we all want and need to provide to our community."

Writer Laurie Everett may be contacted at laurieeverett1@gmail.com.

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census, funding, government, Mt. Juliet
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