Posted on August 13, 2020
By Tia Lyons
El Dorado News-Times
A new deadline to complete the 2020 United States Census count has forced local officials to hastily finalize plans for a promotional campaign to make sure all El Dorado households are counted.
As a result, the El Dorado Works Board — which administers the city’s 1-cent sales tax for economic development, municipal infrastructure and quality-of-life projects — scheduled a specially called meeting at 5:15 p.m. on August 13 in the Council Chamber of City Hall to vote on a funding request to help launch a promotional campaign to encourage residents to participate in the 2020 Census.
The Census Bureau announced Monday that the deadline to complete Census enumerations is Sept. 30, a month earlier than the original deadline of Oct. 31.
El Dorado City Council Member Judy Ward is urging local residents to contact U.S. Senators Tom Cotton (R) and John Boozman (R) and U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman (R) and ask them to extend the deadline, which was set for Oct. 31 but was reset for Sept. 30 upon the orders of the White House.
The U.S. Census Bureau must submit a completed population count to the Oval Office by Dec. 31, per the U.S. Constitution.
Timelines for 2020 Census operations and enumerations have been modified and delayed because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Field operations, which entail census-takers going door to door, were to end Oct. 31.
Steven Dillingham, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, said the date to deliver a final count to the White House had been rescheduled for April 30 of 2021.
With the new deadline that has been pushed by the House of Representatives and President Donald Trump, the Bureau will work to finalize the count by Dec. 31.
The deadline was changed as part of an effort by the White House to ensure an accurate count of U.S. citizens, rather than all U.S. residents, so that undocumented residents may be removed from the final Census headcount before the numbers are sent to Congress for reapportionment.
Opponents of the change contend that the deadline would result in an undercount of several demographics who are typically undercounted in the Census.
By the first of August, the national response rate was nearly 63%.
Locally, efforts — including the city’s Complete Count Committee, which is headed up Council Member Willie McGhee — were already under way to reach groups are unlikely to complete and submit Census forms.
On Tuesday, Ward, McGhee and other city officials approached the El Dorado Works Board with a funding request of up to $5,000 to launch a social media blitz to encourage local residents to turn in their Census forms.
Ward, a volunteer with local Census efforts, reported that 43% of El Dorado households have not submitted 2020 Census forms. She also informed EWB members about the new deadline.
McGhee said field operations were set to begin Tuesday in El Dorado.
Of the new deadline, Ward said, “So that gives us 31 less days to work to get the census numbers in … This is so important because our population count was down 10 years ago with the Census and we cannot afford to have another downward trend because when companies come in and look at a community, they want to see it coming back up and if we’re on a downward spiral, that is not going to help us at all.” Per the 2010 Census, El Dorado’s population was 18,884. A follow-up estimate in 2019 placed the city’s population at 17,651.
For Union County, the 2010 Census count was 41,639 and by July of 2019, the population had dropped to an estimated 38,682, representing a decrease of 7.1%.
The 2010 response rates were 75% for El Dorado and 71% for Union County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Ward said many residents do not realize that tax dollars that are divvied up among communities for essential programs and services are often based on Census numbers.
“The figures that we have, I can conservatively say that for each person that submits this form, $2,500 a year comes back into this community, so for the next 10 years and for each person, that’s $25,000,” Ward said.
“If we just recruit two people to fill out these Census forms, that’s going to be $5,000 back to this community in one year,” she continued. “So, we’ve got to do everything we can to get the word out there to have people to send in their forms and it’s just a very small amount of time that it takes.”
Ward and McGhee said they are working with several groups on advertising and promotional projects for no cost.
For instance, Ward said there are plans to post messages on cityowned digital billboards near the El Dorado Municipal Auditorium and the El Dorado Conference Center.
She said the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce has agreed to assist by sending email blasts for Chamber members and local corporations to share.
McGhee said he has also spoken with local media organizations about running public service announcements.
Ward said city officials are taking advice from the Arkansas Municipal League to spread information via social media.
“I’d like to set up with Facebook and with Facebook, to reach more people, you have to pay them. They’ve got to make money too,” Ward said.
She said City Clerk Heather McVay, who was present during the meeting Tuesday, volunteered to run the Facebook page and local agencies and businesses have agreed to lend their marketing talents to craft the messages.
Ward said the effort may not take $5,000, explaining that the number was based on a previous campaign budget for a local elected official who used social media in a race to represent a city ward.
Ward and McGhee said a meeting to bring together stakeholders will also be scheduled to help boost local response rates.
McGhee said the U.S. Census Bureau is also working with local communities to reach all demographics.
Debra Joyner, partnership specialist with the Chicago Regional Census Center, which covers Arkansas, is expected to attend the next regular City Council meeting on Aug. 20.
EWB members did not have enough members present to vote on the matter.
EWB member Alison Abson, who participated in the meeting by phone, said she would abstain on any vote regarding the Census, explaining that she is a Censustaker.
Though city officials said such a vote would not financially benefit Abson, Abson said she was reticent to cast a vote on the funding request.
EWB chairman said that without a vote from Abson, there were not enough board members for a quorum to take a proper vote.
The group agreed to a specially called meeting today to take action on the vote.
“That appears to be a worthwhile use of $5,000,” EWB Chairman Greg Downum said.