PARKERSBURG - Local officials are trying to get people to participate in the 2010 U.S. Census.
With both federal and state funding - which is appropriated based on population - on the line and the possibility of West Virginia losing a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, local officials are trying to make sure people fill out the Census cards when they are mailed out March 15.
"This is a Census year," Gov. Joe Manchin said in his State of the State address in January. "With only 10 questions, it is the shortest questionnaire in history, but it still will determine the distribution of more than $400 billion annually for government services including health care, education and police and fire protection.
Photo by Brett Dunlap
Parkersburg Mayor Robert Newell looks over 2010 Census materials.
"It is time for every West Virginian to stand up and be counted and I ask all of you to join me in this effort."
The questions cover how many people are living in a residence; if people are living in a house, apartment or mobile home; the residence's phone number; names of the people living there; their sex; their age; race; or if someone is in the military, away at college or in a nursing facility.
The city of Parkersburg held a Census 2010 event at City Park to answer the public's questions, said Parkersburg Mayor Robert Newell.
"We are continuing to assist them with their campaign," he said. "They have been doing a good job of getting the word out."
It is important for people to fill out the cards as it is population numbers that help determine how much state and federal funding the city is eligible for. Those funds help city officials determine what they have to work with and decide how they are going to budget money.
"The more accurate the count, the better it is for the city," Newell said. "This will help decide what direction the city can take."
City Development Director Ann Conageski said a lot of grant money, like the community block grants and highway entitlements the city gets is regulated, based on the number of people living here.
"They depend directly on population," she said.
Carolyn Rader, mayor of Ripley, said she has reminders about the Census put out through the local media and in residents' water bills.
"I am really concentrating on this effort for our city," she said. "We are telling our citizens how important the completion of the census is because it defines us as a nation.
"Grants, business opportunities and business location decisions are all results of this reported Census information."
The Census Bureau will be sending out approximately 300 million cards to residences throughout the nation, said John Willse, media specialist with the Census Bureau. The forms will be mailed out through the U.S. mail.
Reports have surfaced nationally about scams online with people taking advantage of the Census to steal personal information from people.
Williamstown Mayor Jean Ford said some people are worried about giving out information because of all the scams.
Willse said the Census Bureau will not be contacting anyone by e-mail.
"Nothing will go out electronically," he said. "We will not be collecting information over the Internet."
West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw said authentic Census forms don't ask for Social Security numbers, information about income or credit card information.
If people do not mail the Census card back, workers will be going door to door to gather information. Census takers have government badges marked with their name, a Department of Commerce watermark and an expiration date, McGraw said.
Willse said local authorities will be notified when Census takers will be working in a particular area. If residents still have concerns about a Census taker, they can call the local authorities or the state Census office to verify the identities of the Census takers, he added.
There are also penalties for Census takers who try to divulge any information.
The Census Bureau is bound by a strict law and solemn commitment to protect the confidential information they collect, Census officials said. By law, the Census Bureau cannot share respondents' individually identifiable answers with anyone, including tribal housing authorities, other federal agencies and law enforcement entities.
All Census Bureau employees take the oath of non-disclosure and are sworn for life to protect the confidentiality of the data. The penalty for unlawful disclosure is a fine of up to $250,000, imprisonment of up to five years, or both.
Ford said the Census cards are simple and not too in-depth. She has made the Census a talking point when she talks with people and it will be brought up at city council meetings and so on.
Since Williamstown is a small city with a small tax base and no business occupancy tax, grants and other funding help the city meet a lot of needs.
"It is all good for the city," Ford said.
Wood County Commission President Rick Modesitt said the commission has also made the Census a talking point with the public on how important it is to participate.
If the state has a significant shift in population, congressional lines could be redrawn and West Virginia could be in danger of losing one of its seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"We live in a small rural state," Modesitt said.
Losing a Congressional seat could impact the amount of federal money the state receives.
"We could lose a lot of federal financial resources," Modesitt said. "It is important we count every person."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.