THE NEWS EDITORIAL; Census appeal will ensure every household has been counted
September 23, 2021
The Census Bureau says Washakie County lost nearly 10% in population and Worland lost 13% in population within the past 10 years, according to 2020 census figures.
The City of Worland is looking to appeal the census figures and has the support of the Washakie County commissioners.
The mayor and council knew that the population had dropped. There was even concern two years ago that it may drop below 5,000, which is one of the reasons there was a push to annex adjacent subdivisions into the city limits.
But a drop of 13% was not expected. A drop from 5,487 in 2010 to 4,773 in 2020 seems out of range.
Dropping below 5,000 means the city will no longer receive Urban Systems funding, funding that helped construct 23rd Street and funding that was to help reconstruct Washakie Avenue. While that project is still needed it may be delayed until other sources of funding can be obtained. Fortunately the city does get to keep funding already banked, just over $900,000.
For those wondering, yes, the City of Worland still maintains city status, as the population would have to drop below 4,000 to be a “town.”
But the city loses more than just Urban Systems funding. There are several revenue sources based on population formula including sales and use tax. This will be a blow to the general fund budget in the next fiscal year.
Initial estimates are that it could be an impact of $400,000 to the budget.
The city does not have a lot of avenues to increase revenue.
Is it just unbelief and not wanting to be below the 5,000 threshold that makes city officials feel that the count is inaccurate? No.
One of the central issues is ensuring every household was counted and there is question on whether that actually happened.
The census count began right about the time that the COVID-19 pandemic hit last spring. Residents were to receive census information in the mail, but the Northern Wyoming News knows of some residents who never received anything in the mail.
For the 2020 census, residents were encouraged to go online or fill out the survey over the phone, which is called self-reporting.
The Census Bureau statistics say that 65.6% of households self-reported during the 2020 census and that 99.9% of all households had been counted in the country.
This would mean that census takers visited in person the other 34.4% of households in Washakie County.
During the spring and early summer last year, the Northern Wyoming News continued to get news releases about how door-to-door census was being delayed due to COVID, with the emphasis on online and telephone self-reporting.
The city knew that there were fliers about jobs available for census takers but never heard of anyone actually going door-to-door.
So, did the city really lose 714 residents in the past 10 years?
While it is not hard to believe that the city dropped in population – perhaps residents moved to the country albeit census numbers do not reflect that with the county dropping nearly 10% in population — is hard to know for sure by how much.
What is not hard to believe or decide is whether the city should appeal. Yes, they should. It is important to ensure the census count is complete and accurate.
Appealing census figures is not new. The City of Riverton did it after the 2010 census and won the appeal with a subdivision inside city limits not being counted. The process, however, took two years.
If the city moves forward with an appeal, they must realize it will be a long and involved process. Win or lose, the city will have to face at least one budget year with a reduction in revenues starting July 1, 2022.
The mayor and council, along with the city employees, will have some tough decisions to make but one thing is for certain they will continue to operate the city and provide the necessary services for the city residents no matter what the census shows.