Like the rest of the country, Buncombe County is gearing up to count its residents as part of the 2020 census. But Tim Love, the county’s director of intergovernmental projects, points out that the tally could also help Buncombe count on increased revenue from the federal government.
In a presentation at the Aug. 6 pre-meeting of the Board of Commissioners, Love said that the county misses out on roughly $1,600 of federal funding annually for every resident who goes uncounted. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly $690 billion of federal spending in fiscal year 2015 alone was distributed based on census data.
“This could be counting a newborn, a 3-year-old, a 50-year old — it doesn’t matter,” Love explained. “If we’re able to increase our participation rate by 1%, that would be approximately 2,500 residents of Buncombe County, which equates to $4 million in federal funding annually and $40 million over 10 years.”
The county has set a goal of 80% participation from its more than 259,000 estimated residents for the upcoming census. That target represents an increase of 4 percentage points over the 76% participation rate in 2010. Buncombe’s participation in the last census was in line with that of North Carolina as a whole; regionally, only Henderson County recorded a higher rate at 78%.
To achieve its goal, Love said Buncombe County has created a census working group with representatives from municipal governments, several county departments and the Asheville Area and Black Mountain-Swannanoa chambers of commerce. Moving forward, the county will establish a Complete Count Committee with support from area schools and universities, nonprofit and faith communities, business leaders and the media.
Love said the committee, which will first convene in late August, will “hone the messaging and create the buy-in to get folks understanding the value of the census and what they need to do.” He clarified that county employees will not directly be participating as census takers but will instead stick to community outreach.
While the committee hopes to develop its communication plan by late October, Love said, the Census Bureau itself will not begin mailing questionnaires until mid-March. He said residents should expect to receive a “short form” census consisting of 10-15 questions and can respond by mail, phone, online or in person.
Love did not directly address the controversial — and ultimately failed — effort by the administration of President Donald Trump to include a citizenship question on the upcoming census but acknowledged there’d been “a lot of attention on the census this year.” He emphasized that census employees will never call or email residents and will bear official identification when conducting in-person visits.