LEESBURG -- Lee County Commissioner Rick Muggridge, who headed up Lee County's Complete Count Committee, announced at an afternoon news conference Thursday that the county's census participation rate thus far is tops in the state.
Meeting in front of the T. Page Tharp Governmental Building just before afternoon showers hit and with "We Count Lee Count" signs posted all around, Muggridge said Lee's 71 percent participation rate matches north Georgia's Fayette County for tops in the state.
"No. 1, our volunteers worked hard and did a great job of getting the word out to people in the community," Muggridge said. "And, No. 2, the citizens here understand how important this count is.
"My goal all along has been to get 100 percent participation, and that's what we'll keep working for."
Meanwhile, Assistant Dougherty County Administrator Mike McCoy, who headed up the county's census efforts, said Dougherty has already surpassed its 2000 response rate and is ahead of most other mid- to large-size metropolitan areas in the state.
"We're at 63 percent as of today," McCoy said Thursday. "The national average is 63 percent, and the average participation rate in Georgia is around 60 percent. And if you look at the state's larger cities, we're ahead of Valdosta, Macon, Columbus, Augusta and we're tracking ahead of most jurisdictions in metro Atlanta.
"I feel very good about our stats, about the way we're tracking. But our efforts are not over yet; we've got a ways to go."
Muggridge said it's important for all Southwest Georgians -- not just those in Lee County -- to return their census forms.
"We're underrepresented in this region now, and it's going to get worse," he said. "That's why we need every person to respond. This is one of the poorest areas in the nation, and we need to have an accurate (census) count to get the representation and the federal funds we deserve.
"That's why I'd like to encourage everyone in this region, everyone in Dougherty, Terrell, Worth and other surrounding counties, to get their census form, fill it out and send it back."
Noting a number of calls from citizens who had not received census forms in the mail, Muggridge pointed out that forms are available in the county at Smithville City Hall, the Smithville, Redbone and Leesburg library branches, at the Tharp government building and at the R.S. Boney Senior Center.
He also said Lee volunteers would hand-deliver forms to those unable to make it to one of the centers.
"If there are any questions, I encourage everyone to call our census hotline (229-438-2271)," Muggridge said. "If you can't get a form, we have people who will hand-deliver one to you. There are also still jobs available for folks looking for work.
"If you call the census number, you can get more information. The jobs pay $11 an hour and 50 cents per mile."
Census forms are available in Dougherty County at public library branches, at the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, at the Family Literacy Council, the county health department, Mt. Zion Baptist Church and the Trumpet of God Ministries.
"We were hoping for at least a 10 percent increase over our 2000 participation rate," McCoy said. "We plan to take a caravan into some of the hard-to-count neighborhoods Saturday and make a lot of noise. We'll keep reminding people how important this is to our community."
Lee County's census response in 2000 was 63 percent, while Dougherty's participation rate a decade ago was 62 percent.