Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley is encouraging all county residents to complete the 2020 census next year. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

With just a few months remaining before the calendar turns to 2020, Town of Erwin officials are preparing for the upcoming census.

The United States census count happens every 10 years and in the spring of 2020, the next installment of the census count will begin.

Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley recently sat down with The Erwin Record to discuss the importance of the U.S. census and what it means for the area municipalities.

“The importance of the census is for redistricting and to get an account of everyone in the county and that means money,” Hensley said. “That’s where we get our sales tax and our tax rate. For every person that is missed and not counted, the county loses about $1,900 a year. The census is where we get our population numbers for grants, federal and state money and it helps us set our tax rate so we can prepare to keep the tax rate down.”

According to Hensley, the census also helps distribute more than $675 billion in annual federal funds back to state, tribal and local governments. Hensley acknowledged that the census is a key factor in forecasting future transportation needs for segments of the population and determining areas that are eligible for housing assistance and rehabilitation loans. According to Hensley, the census is crucial in assisting the planning for emergency response and for designing facilities for people with disabilities, the elderly and children.

During the 2010 census, Unicoi County missed out on more than half of the funding they would have received.

“In 2010, we think we only got 46 percent of Unicoi County counted,” Hensley said. “This year we are aiming for 100 percent.”

The 2020 census will feature a new mapping app called the Response Outreach Area Mapper (ROAM.)

“ROAM is a tracking system, kind of like GPS, that records each tract of land in the county, and records if there is a house on the tract or not,” Hensley said. “ROAM will produce a list of residences that have not filled out census data yet and will aide census workers in covering the county.”

According to Hensley, the goal for the county is to get as many census forms completed at the front end of the collection process as possible.

“We hope to get everything up front,” Hensley said. “The 2020 census should start in late spring, and citizens can respond online, by phone or by mail.”

Hensley acknowledged that if there are residents who are having difficulty filling out the census, there is help available.

“If someone is having a problem filling the form out, they can bring them by City Hall, Erwin Utilities or the library for assistance,” Hensley said. “There is one question on the form about immigration status, but no one will look at what is on the form; they are sealed for 72 years, and these forms are solely to count the number of residents in each county,” Hensley said.

Along with an accurate account of population and all the money that the census brings into Unicoi County, the census is also creating numerous temporary jobs.

“The census bureau needs 150 workers to work inside of Unicoi County,” Hensley said. “As of right now there are only 39 census workers signed up. This is a six week job that employees will be able to work at their own schedule and pay is $15.30 an hour plus mileage.”

For more information about the 2020 census, please visit census.gov. If you are interested in employment for the 2020 census, please visit census.gov/jobs.