Complete Count Committee discusses census

ALBANY -- As the delivery date for 2010 census forms inches closer for Albany and Dougherty County residents, the county's Complete Count Committee is trying to pave the way for an accurate snapshot of the community.

The committee met to discuss promotional ideas and ways to keep the community informed about the census at its Thursday-afternoon meeting.

Dougherty County students will be able to participate in a census-oriented essay contest for a chance to win $100, said Complete Count Committee Chairman and Assistant County Administrator Michael McCoy.

"It will be open to all K-12 students," he told the committee. "We will begin advertising the contest soon, and hopefully we can get a good response from that."

Three first-place winners will receive $100; second-place winners will get $75; and three third-place winners will be awarded $25 each.

In addition to the contest, the committee has been working on setting up three block parties for the community. The events will be open to the public and feature food, activities and possible contests and giveaways.

"The idea is to make it a fun event while also providing education," said Harriet Hollis, director of work force development and education with the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce.

A block party for the south side of Albany is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 30 at the Carver Complex at 1023 South McKinley Street from noon-4 p.m. East-side events will be at the corner of Radium Springs Road and Oglethorpe Boulevard on Feb. 20 and 27 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and noon-3 p.m., respectively. A culmination celebration for the census is scheduled to take place March 20 at the Veterans Park Amphitheatre from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

McCoy said the reason the events are scheduled in the east- and south-side districts of Albany is because they tend to be areas that are harder to count.

"The west and north sides are not hard to count," he said. "We want to really try to focus on the east and south sides."

McCoy said the committee is determined to get a complete count for Dougherty and has spent the last few months working hard to promote the census.

"We participated in Albany State University's homecoming parade as well as the Christmas parade," he said. "We got to design a float, and that was fun."

The committee has also created Facebook and Twitter accounts to keep the community up to date. Its members have also reached out to community leaders for additional support and will present an update to the County Commission on Monday.

"We started out with a budget of $6,000," McCoy said. "We spent half of the county's contribution and all of the city's. We currently have about $1,500 left that will go to the essay contest winners."

McCoy announced that the committee has received a partnership grant of $3,000 through the Census Bureau.

"We were not expecting this, and we are excited about it," he said.

The committee said the grant will be used primarily for promotional materials. Co-chairman of the Complete Count Committee and Director of Planning and Development Services Howard Brown said it was important that the committee continue to dispel myths and rumors about the census.

"People need to know that no one can get access to their information when they fill out a form," he said. "Census-takers are required by law not to divulge that type of information. They could face steep fines and possible jail time."

McCoy said information collected from the forms will also not be used against the people who fill them out.

"They (the Census Bureau) are not going to take the forms and turn you in for child support or if you have too many people living in your house," he said.

McCoy said the 2010 census questionnaires are also faster to fill out and simpler to understand than in past years.

"It takes about 10 minutes to complete," he said.

The committee chairman stressed the importance of getting a true count for Dougherty County.

"An undercount robs us," said McCoy. "This is about dollars and cents. The information the census collects helps to determine how much federal funding we get for education, transportation and health care."

He warned the committee that an inaccurate count will be with the community for years.

"We are stuck with these numbers, and that affects us in the future," said McCoy. "This is very important to our community."

Census forms should be arriving in the mail around March.