Census Presents Problems and Opportunities in 2020

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By Linda Cicoira

The 2020 census could be a problem in Accomack County. Along with misconceptions about reporting your existence to the Census Bureau, there’s an old issue.

Twenty years ago it was somehow reported that 5,000 people lived on one small lot at Trails End.

“We proved to those people (the census bureau) that we did not have those people,” Chairman Donald Hart of the Accomack board of supervisors said at a board session Wednesday. “We took them to the lot, the actual lot. They wouldn’t back down from it.”

Since then, the county has been trying to live down the stigma of a dwindling population as the invisible people disappeared.

“That cost us so much grief,” said Supervisor Grayson Chesser. “It was great in some ways, Sheriff (Robert) Crockett got some extra cars,” Chesser said.

Crockett, who is now a county supervisor, smiled widely at the mention. He said he was able to hire some new deputies too.

Had to change zoning,” Chesser said.

“Years and years and years of grief. One of the worse things is the perception that the county is losing population. I don’t believe we are. I don’t believe we have in a long time. I can see people from other areas moving into District 3. … We paid a big price for extra monies. … I bet in the end it cost more. …

“It’s so very important that we get this right.”

William P. O’Hare, president of O’Hare Data and Demographic Services LLC in Cape Charles, said discrepancies could cost tens of thousands in federal funds for a decade, which is how often the census is done. “Complete Count Committees” are being established across the country to make sure every person is counted and to help get people to register who are reluctant, he said.

“We have a lot of population on the Eastern Shore that is at risk not to be counted,” said O’Hare. He is working to distribute literature at the food bank and at the library’s upcoming Diversity Day event. During the census for the first time, people will be able to register online after they receive a number in the mail.

Supervisor Reneta Major invited O’Hare to speak at the session. “The most vulnerable folk that don’t get counted are children,” she said. “I think it’s frugal for Accomack County. I do thank you for coming and sharing and kudos.”

O’Hare said that sometimes grandparents or grandchildren are not counted because people don’t think to include them as part of the immediate family unit even though they live at the same residence.

“People who are non-citizens will probably be reluctant.” There are people who have privacy issues and don’t want to answer a bunch of questions, he said. “People who have been incarcerated might think they don’t have the right to be counted.”

Then there is the issue of the 14 incorporated towns where people use post office boxes. When mail is sent to their physical address it is often returned to sender, said Supervisor Donald Hart.

“Personally, I kind of think my address is not correct and there are many, many, many in the county that are like that,” said Supervisor Ron Wolff.

O’Hare said if the question of being a citizen winds up being on the form, it can be skipped and the person would still be counted. In some cases, a trusted community leader might be able to persuade people to register.

In other business, Director of Public Safety C. Ray Pruitt outlined an agreement that is of no cost to the county but will utilize NASA’s fire department in times of need.

Board members also reported positive input regarding the merger of the chamber of commerce and tourism commission.