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Get the word out: Be counted for 2010 census

ALBANY -- Judging from the turnout at an East Albany town hall meeting, getting people in the district to respond to the 2010 census could be a hard sell.

The importance of having a high return rate of census forms was outlined at the monthly 10 a.m. Saturday meeting called by Albany City Commissioner Jon Howard. Five residents attended the meeting at the East Albany Community Center, 1721 E. Oglethorpe Blvd.

"I can't tell you how important it is to be counted in the 2010 census," Howard said. "We need you people to tell everyone how important it is."

Which counties and cities receive how much federal funding from grant money hinges on the population counted in the census, said Howard Brown, Albany director of planning.

"For the next 10 years $300 million a year will be available from the federal government based on the figures from the census," Brown said. "If we don't have a complete count we'll miss out on our share of it."

The private sector is also heavily influenced by the census results, Brown said. When more people show up counted on the census retailers know that have them as customers. Industry could also translate the numbers counted into potential employees, he added.

"The Walmart that will be in East Albany would not have been possible without the 2000 census numbers," Brown said. "The Broad Street bridge repair also depends on the census."

Other noted services that depend on census numbers:

- Designing facilities for people with disabilities, the elderly or children.

- Grants to schools.

- Head Start programs.

- Public transportation.

- Road rehabilitation and construction.

The Albany Police Department recently relied on census numbers to put nine more police officers on the street through government grants.

In applying for those and other grants Brown estimated that for each person not counted in the county, at least $1,000 is lost.

The response rate to the census forms that are mailed out is best in the higher income areas of the area. For some reason, the lower income areas such as East Albany, where the need for government assistance could be greatest, respond least to the census, Brown said.

Any objections to being counted did not make sense, Brown said. The forms take 10 min to fill out and are confidential. Census forms are not shared with any social services agency, the police or anyone, Brown said.

"We are trying to get the word out as much as we can," Brown said. "We have been recruiting folks from fail based groups, civic groups, non-profits, the business community and doing a neighborhood outreach in neighborhoods."

Also attending the town hall meeting, Albany Police Chief John Proctor said that the holiday season was a great time of year for everyone, including crooks.

People have to pay attention to their surroundings all the time, but especially at this time of year. Proctor gave a few tips to shoppers including the following:

Shop during the daylight hours and not later at night. Shop with a friend or in groups. Keep keys to the car, which should be parked in a well lighted area, out as you approach your car to get in fast.

Call the police if there is something suspicious, Proctor said. He has put his officers on 10-hour shifts and authorized the overtime he found in his budget for the season.