Perhaps they're preaching to the choir, but the local office of the Georgia Farm Bureau is among agencies asking locals to cooperate with the U.S. Census Bureau.
"We're encouraging all of Columbia County's residents to participate in the census," says Columbia County Farm Bureau President Pete Allen. "The amount of state and federal funding our county receives in the next decade will be determined by the 2010 Census, so it's important everyone in our county is counted."
The good news is that message already seems to gets across here. In the previous Census in 2000, Columbia County returned 78 percent of its mailed census forms. That's better than the national return rate of 72 percent, and better than Georgia's 69 percent return rate.
It's also better than surrounding communities. Richmond County's return rate was 71 percent; Aiken County's was 68 percent.
While 78 percent isn't 100 percent (which isn't going to happen, anywhere, anyway), that 78 percent is better than everyone around us. So if there is to be an effort to encourage cooperation with the Census, the folks in Columbia County already get the message.
But there is potentially a far more important message in those census results - not for the county's residents, but for its government officials.
That's because the 2010 Census count will mark a threshold for Columbia County. Our official population in 2000 was just a hair over 89,000; our projected count now is nearly 115,000.
Once that number is official, it not only means more money for the county - the primary concern of bean-counting bureaucrats - but it also means changes in some laws - and more money for some local elected officials.
Among other population-based laws, the state sets minimum pay for some county officials based on population. Once the census counts Columbia County with more than 100,000 residents, the sheriff, clerk of court, probate judge, magistrate and tax commissioner all get increases in their minimum salaries. (The next pay hike doesn't come until the population hits 150,000; depending on this year's census, we'll likely hit that by 2020.)
There are more than a dozen such state laws that mandate different rules for counties with populations of 100,000 and higher, and there are federal laws carrying a similar threshold.
Thus, if they haven't already, Columbia County's government should strongly consider setting up a commission to study all the local implications for the census count - long before all the numbers are reported.
Our residents need to be sure they fill out and send in their forms. And our elected officials need to be sure they're ready for the results.
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