ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
To the chagrin of local leaders, the results of Census 2000 have done little to resolve what is becoming an ongoing and vexing question:
What is Hillsboro’s population?
The U.S. Census Bureau released results last week from Census 2000 that pegged the number at 2,854, an increase of only 150 people from the 1990 census.
Mayor Delores Dalke and other city leaders are convinced the number of people living in Hillsboro is much higher, perhaps as high as 3,400.
“We plan to challenge the numbers,” she said late last week.
Challenging U.S. Census figures is becoming a routine practice at city hall.
Dalke said she believed the 1990 Census finding of 2,704 was already too low, but the city did not challenge those findings.
“I had just become mayor and really didn’t know much about the appeal process then,” she said.
That has changed over the past few years.
Between the actual head count done every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau periodically issues updated population figures based on formulas.
When the 1996 estimate indicated Hillsboro had a population of 2,380-a decrease of 324 people from the 1990 head count-the city appealed in late summer 1998, using two alternate formulas suggested by the bureau.
One formula involved utility hookups and the other involved the number of building permits issued.
A few months later, the Census Bureau informed the city it had revised Hillsboro population to 2,837-an increase of 442 people from the 1996 findings, but still well below local estimates.
When the 1998 population estimate came through, the city appealed again. This time, the Census Bureau responded with a revised count of 3,136 people.
Dalke said she was hoping the Census 2000 head count would clarify the issue once and for all.
“My reaction was, when they count the real census, we’ll find the rest of those people,” she said. “Well, apparently we didn’t find the rest of those people.”
The bureau’s count of 2,854 was not what she expected.
“There has to be an error there someplace because we definitely have not lost people in Hillsboro,” she said.
Dalke said there’s a lot more on the line for Hillsboro than pride. Many state and federal grants are determined in part by a city’s population.
“We will definitely be challenging (the census results),” she said. “It means too much as far as money. It’s just too big of a setback for us.”
A city’s population is important in other ways, too.
“Whenever we are recruiting someone to come here, be it someone who wants to live in the community or someone who wants to transfer a business here, their first question always is, ‘What’s happening with your population-is it growing?’
“We are considered a small town, and if our numbers are going down, we won’t even be considered,” Dalke said. “We know that’s not happening. We just have to prove to them that there’s a mistake here someplace.”
Dalke identified two common reasons for mistakes: college students and nursing home residents are often overlooked or undercounted.
To avoid that problem this time around, Dalke said the city had asked the Census Bureau to send out census forms when Tabor College students registered for the spring semester in January 2000.
Dalke said those forms never arrived.
“When I called they said, ‘Oh, we forgot about doing that,'” Dalke said. “So we don’t know how they were counted or if they were counted. I kept calling because the week they were planning to count them was the week of spring break…. I just don’t know what happened there.”
Joe Conlon of Abilene, the field operations supervisor for Census 2000 in this area, said he believes the college students were “absolutely” counted.
“Many of the youngsters that go to any college, really think they should have their permanent address at home,” Conlon said. “We, working with the community people, try to convince them to register in that (college) city so the city gets the money earned with a larger population in order to pay for the services the city provides.
“We tried to register as many (Tabor students) as possible,” he said. “They were given an option, but we tried to convince them and the school that they were to register in Hillsboro.”
Conlon said he personally worked with local nursing homes.
“That was done separately in the summer of 1999,” he said. “I handled Hillsboro myself, trying to find out what happened. We had to make sure we weren’t counting people twice.”
Dalke said the census results are a mystery, but she isn’t questioning the competency of census volunteers.
“I am sure the census is very, very difficult to take, and I feel sorry for the people who work at it every year because they try really hard,” Dalke said. “But somehow along the way, something has gone wrong with this one.
“I am definitely not criticizing (local) helpers,” she added. “I just think there’s something that goes wrong with the way the information is transported until it get backs to us.”
Dalke said the appeal process will proceed shortly.