With the 2020 United States Census coming after the first of the year, the Fort Smith Board of Directors wants to make certain everyone in Fort Smith is properly counted.
“Since the data from the Census is used in many ways to allocate federal resources to many programs affecting communities and families, it is recognized that achieving a complete count in Arkansas and within the City of Fort Smith itself is of vital importance,” Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman said in a memo attached to the board packet for the board’s study session Tuesday (Sept. 10).
“What we produce in this census will affect us for the next 10 years. For every one person who is not accounted for, we will lose $2,500 every year over a course of 10 years,” said Jurena Storm, communications and training manager for the City of Fort Smith.
Dingman told directors that a complete count in the census is extremely important and recommended a count committee to make certain everyone in the city is counted properly.
“Most communities have a number of ‘Hard To Count’ (HTC) populations that, for whatever reason, might not be accurately counted in the census if some effort isn’t made to step out to inform, educate, and facilitate their participation. HTC populations typically include small children, the elderly, non-English speakers, certain ethnic or religious groups, university students, indigent and transient populations and those that generally disassociate with government for whatever reason, be it indifference or fear of enforcement,” Dingman said in the memo.
Gov. Asa Hutchison recently announced the appointment of a statewide Arkansas Counts Complete Count Committee with the No. 1 charge to make sure everyone in the state is counted correctly, said Mayor George McGill.
“This count is critical to us, to our state. If it isn’t done correctly, it could lead to tens of millions of dollars that could not come to the state,” McGill said.
By extension, Fort Smith needs a committee that can help facilitate the HTC populations here, Dingman said. That committee will work to incorporate many strategies to help with the count including providing materials in different languages, attending events or canvassing certain neighborhoods with specific information, he said, who also mentioned partnering with public libraries, schools and employers.
“It is wonderful that we can put it on paper that we are diverse, we are changing, and here is your paperwork for that,” Storm said. “(This) is more than just collecting data for the government, it is the chance for the community to come together and make a better and bigger and brighter outline for our future.”
A resolution on the committee will be on the agenda for the Sept. 17 regular board meeting.