Local officials hope to change the way the national government will count deployed soldiers in the upcoming 2010 Census.
Soldiers are counted as residents of their “state of record” rather than counted as residents of the area where they live at the time they deploy, said Census Bureau Representative Lauren Lewis. Therefore, an estimated 14,000 soldiers assigned to Fort Stewart, who live in Hinesville and surrounding communities, will not be counted as part of the local population when they deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.
“This is how it is done nationwide,” Lewis explained. She said military personnel who will be serving overseas when the Census is taken will be added to their home states’ population figures.
Lewis oversees a 10-county area that includes Liberty, Bryan, Effingham, Tattnall, Glynn, Evans, Chatham, Long, McIntosh and Toombs counties.
Officials from Liberty County, Hinesville and nearby cities have signed and sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston and U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson requesting their support in changing the way the Census currently counts active duty service members.
Community leaders continue to stress the impact population has in determining the amount of money the federal government distributes to states, and states, in turn, apportions to counties and cities.
Jeff Ricketson, director of the Fort Stewart Growth Management Partnership, said a dialogue began last week at a partnership meeting about the Census and how deployed military members are counted. Ricketson said local leaders are concerned their cities and counties — particularly Hinesville and Liberty County — will be financially penalized during a 10-year period based on the Census.
The letter, he said, was sent to Georgia’s congressional delegation. The partnership includes the counties of Liberty, Bryan, Long and Tattnall, and the cities in these counties.
Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said not counting deployed soldiers as part of the local population would result in skewed population figures and could cost Hinesville and Liberty County as much as $280 million over 10 years.
“This happened in 2000 and it cost us millions
of dollars,” he said. Thomas said the city receives
federal and state funding for each citizen counted. Those not counted translate into less money, he said.
The mayor estimated Hinesville’s population was actually 35,000-40,000 in 2000, although the Census had it pegged at roughly over 30,000. A large number of soldiers who were deployed from the local area when the last Census was taken were not counted, he said.
“We don’t want that to happen again,” Thomas said. “The families of soldiers will still be here. We’re going to support them. It doesn’t make sense not to count the soldiers.”
Thomas said by counting soldiers among the local population, local governments can better afford to pay for the infrastructure to support military families who live in the area. Other area leaders agree with this view.
“All of us have a fair amount of military living in our communities,” said Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed. “Obviously, (counting deployed soldiers) would be very favorable for us. We think they should be counted as citizens of the (local) community.”
Mike Melton, Richmond Hill City Manager, said he has not seen the letter nor has the city signed off on it, but added, “We’re clearly in support of trying to get these (military) folks counted.”
Lewis said Census surveys will be sent to the nation’s households on March 18.
“There are 135 million households in the (national) data base,” she said. “There are 10 questions on the survey.”
Lewis said Census workers are encouraging people to mail the survey forms in by the April 1 deadline. Census surveys are sent out in prepaid, return envelopes.
“If you mail them in on time no one will come knocking at your door,” Lewis added. Census takers will follow up on non-
responses from May through July by physically going to those households that don’t return Census survey forms by mail, she said.