As Press Staff Writer David Floyd reported in Monday’s edition, Johnson City Manager Pete Peterson estimates that each Washington County resident brings $1,000 per year in state and federal money to local governments by being counted in the U.S. Census.
That’s $1,000 local governments otherwise must either do without or replace from other sources, usually in the form of taxes and fees.
The U.S. Census Bureau says the average Washington County household has 2.3 people. By our math, that means a household’s form is worth $2,300 on average.
Peterson estimated just 86 percent of people in Washington County wound up in the 2010 Census, which cost local governments about $26 million per year. That’s roughly the price of a new elementary school. Think about what could be done with $260 million over the 10-year period between Census counts.
An under-reported Census also would hurt us politically, which has a financial implication, too. The Census determines our representation in the Tennessee General Assembly by population. Peterson correctly noted that this region’s population growth is stale in comparison to other parts of the state.
The Census Bureau reports that Washington County’s population grew just 4.5% between 2010 and 2018 compared to the state’s overall rate of 6.7%. Even more telling is the comparison to the state’s juggernaut, Nashville-Davidson County, which grew 10.9%. One of Nashville’s suburban neighbors, Williamson County, grew a whopping 26.4%.
So we already have a real risk of losing clout in the legislature. Uncounted residents would compound the problem. Clout equals money when it comes to the distribution of state dollars. Such projects as East Tennessee State University’s proposed humanities building hang in the balance.
And if you are concerned about disclosure, by rule, your personal information stays private for 72 years. The Census Bureau cannot publicly release responses in a way that could identify respondents or their households or share your answers with any other government agency.
So when the Census Bureau contacts you this spring with invitation to fill out your survey online, do your wallet and all of us a favor and act.