Liberty County commissioners discussed several options Thursday for appealing what most local officials consider an inaccurate 2010 Census count.
"The 2010 Census did not do us a lot of favors," Liberty County Assistant Administrator Bob Sprinkel said.
In 2000, the county’s population was 61,610, according to the Census Bureau, and today the county has 63,453 residents, according to the 2010 Census. Sprinkel said this low rate of growth, a difference of 1,843 people, is due to several factors, including a sluggish economy and the 3rd Infantry Division’s deployment last year.
Sprinkel explained that 14,000-16,000 soldiers from Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield were deployed when the census deadline arrived April 1, 2010. Therefore, these individuals were not counted as local residents; rather, they were counted by their home of record per Department of Commerce policy. Sprinkel said the Department of Commerce counts U.S. Army service members differently than it does Navy service members. Sailors serving at sea are counted according to their "home port," he said.
Sprinkel said a miscount seriously could affect the county and its cities.
Grants and water allocations are affected by a community’s population, he said.
"Hinesville could lose its MPO (Metropolitan Statistical Area status) if its population falls below a certain level," Sprinkel said.
He added that disaster assistance also is based on population.
"The effects could be felt years from now," Sprinkel said. "We were affected (in 2000) by this same issue."
Sprinkel said that because the Department of Commerce’s policy previously has been upheld by two Supreme Court cases, filing a lawsuit would be an expensive and lengthy process.
Other options would be for Liberty County to "work in cooperation with the affected communities and Fort Stewart on a strategic plan to correct the census miscount," to ask state and national representatives for assistance or to request a special census, Sprinkel said. A special census also would be costly, and the county and Hinesville would bear the financial burden, according to the assistant administrator.
He recommended the county appeal some of Fort Stewart’s census figures in regard to the number of occupied and vacant housing units and barracks on post.
"We know this count is incorrect," Sprinkel said.
He said he plans to meet with installation officials to determine why post housing numbers appear so low.
In other county business:
• Liberty County Clerk of Court Barry Wilkes requested the commission approve reallocating $5,000 from his part-time employees’ pay fund, which has a balance of $6,200, to his full-time workers’ pay fund.
Wilkes said when a longtime "key" employee recently retired, he was obligated to pay her accrued leave time and also had to restructure his remaining staff.
Wilkes reclassified four of his employees, which placed them in higher-paying positions.
• Commissioners approved a summer food-service program contract with Coastal Georgia Area Community Action Association Inc.
The program will serve a total of 30,590 lunches at a cost of $84,122.50.
Liberty County School System students who received free and reduced-price meals during the school year qualified for this program, Carmelo Orr with CAA said.
Lunch will be served at 17 sites, including area churches and community centers, from 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, beginning June 6 and ending