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Officials pushing census participation

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

State Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale) said the word needs to go out to every resident in Georgia -- from the old to the young -- that they need to be a part of next year's federal census count.

The federal government conducts a census every 10 years to get a head count of the number of people living in the United States.

Seay and Henry County Board of Commissioners Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis are the local representatives on Gov. Sonny Perdue's Georgia Complete Count Committee, which is tasked with promoting census participation by as many residents of the state as possible. The committee is tasked with promoting the census, and encouraging people to fill out census forms by April 1, 2010.

For the state, there are a number of things at stake, with possibly the most important being allocation of federal dollars, and the number of seats Georgia will get in the U.S. Congress for the next decade.

"This count is only done once every 10 years, so it's very, very important we get it right, or as close to right as possible," Seay said. "Our job is making sure anybody who is breathing on April 1 is counted."

The Georgia Complete Count Committee is scheduled to come to Henry County for its next meeting, which will be held Jan. 26, 2010, from 1:30 p.m., to 3:30 p.m., at the Henry County Government Complex, which is located at 140 Henry Pkwy., in McDonough.

Seay said she expects that the state will gain more representation in Congress, based on its growth in population -- if every Georgia resident participates in the census. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's web site, Georgia's population grew by an estimated 1.49 million people, to a total of 9.68 million people between 2000 and 2008.

"We gained two seats in the [U.S. House of Representatives] after the last census, and I predict we'll gain two more seats this time, based on the growth we've seen in the state's population over the last decade," Seay said. "But, that's only if everyone fills out, and returns, their census forms."

Seay, who serves on the Georgia Complete Count Committee's Education Subcommittee, said state legislators will be tasked with going through the process of congressional re-apportionment once they know how many seats Georgia will have in Congress for the next decade. Re-apportionment is the re-drawing of Congressional boundary lines to accommodate additional, or even fewer, Congressional districts.

Seay said re-apportionment will likely happen in 2011, after the state goes through its next round of legislative elections.

Bert Brantley, a spokesman for Gov. Perdue, said the census information is also important because it allows governments at all levels to know what services are needed by citizens, and how to use their resources. "Informed decisions are better than uninformed decisions," he said. "Really, the basis of making good decisions and serving citizens is being informed about what the needs of your constituents are."

Mathis, who is the chairperson of the complete count committee's Government Subcommittee, that information could be used in Henry County, for example, to determine the necessary size and distribution of the county's public safety departments.

"It helps us to determine where fire stations need be located, as well as the size our police force needs to be to keep our residents safe," Mathis said.

Mathis said the subcommittee that she sits on is developing a packet that will be made available to local governments across the state. "We need to know what our population is, so we don't want to miss anyone," she said.

The Georgia Complete Count Committee launched it's first major promotion piece, a state census web site, which went online on Dec. 18, according to Brantley. The web site, which can be found at http://census.georgia.gov/, includes census facts, information on the Georgia Complete Count Committee, its meeting dates and locations, and links to the U.S. Census Bureau's web site.

Seay and Mathis outlined several steps they are taking to make sure residents of Clayton and Henry counties are aware of the census count, and how it affects their lives. Steps that will be taken in both counties include reaching out to religious leaders, and broadcasting public service announcements, on Clayton County Public Schools' Channel 24, and on Henry County's Channel 14, public access cable channel, according to Seay and Mathis.

Mathis also said Henry County's government will also promote census awareness via its monthly e-newsletter, and with letters that will be included in utility bills sent out by the county. County government leaders are also seeking out leaders in minority communities, particularly the African-American and Hispanic communities, to help raise awareness of the upcoming census count.

Seay said she has received a pledge from Clayton State University Interim President Tim Hynes to have the university provide whatever help it can, including having students go out into the community to promote census participation.