Census data questioned

CCCOG members question accuracy of numbers released by U.S. Census


September 22, 2021

Meeting on September 15 at Elk Mountain Town Hall, the Carbon County Council of Governments (CCCOG) covered two major topics; the proposed fire district and recently released data from the United States Census Bureau.

Representatives from Rawlins, Sinclair, Hanna, Elk Mountain, Saratoga and Carbon County were present.

Fire District

Travis Moore, Carbon County Commissioner and CCCOG chairman, began the meeting by informing the group Riverside and Dixon had sent him correspondence indicating they supported formation of a fire district through a petition and ballot initiative.

The other municipalities supported the idea of a fire district, but would not be joining it.

“No one is against the fire district in Rawlins,” Terry Weikum, mayor of Rawlins, said. “I think it is a great idea for some of the smaller communities, and it is up to each municipality to see if it is a good fit for them. For Rawlins it is not a good fit.”

Hanna mayor Lois Buchanan said the town supported the idea of a fire district, but the town did not want to join.

“I think it is a wonderful idea, but we just don’t want to go through all the work it will take for us to join,” Buchanan said. “It could be a great fit for other places, but not Hanna.”

Jon Nelson, Saratoga Town Council member, agreed with Buchanan.

“We support putting the fire district on the ballot,” Nelson said. “But Saratoga would not be pursuing joining.”

“So it is my understanding that all municipalities support the creation of a fire district for the county and only Riverside and Dixon would be included in the boundary,” Elk Mountain mayor Morgan Irene said. “Do we have enough time to do this by the time of the election next November?”

It was noted Encampment had tabled the decision.

Weikum said industry in Carbon County needed to be consulted as this went forward and there was unease on who would be elected to the board.

Moore said fire chiefs had gathered to form specific talking points to explain the fire district to the public.

Census Data

The next topic for discussion was the United States Census results.

“I don’t know how your census went, but for us in Elk Mountain we can almost count our town on our hands and figure out how many people we have,” Irene said. “When you start out with a 191 people and they short you 51 people, it is an extreme error from our point of view. So I am just wondering if any other town had this experience.”

Irene said he was not sure of the process on how to contest the U.S. census findings.

“I don’t know if this is something we are going to have to live with for 10 years since it is the federal government doing this,” Irene said. “If I am the only town saying this is a problem it probably won’t be resolved the same way if there are several towns saying this happened.”

“I think our numbers were down, but I am not sure of the number,” Buchanan said. “I think the way they took the census was crazy.”

“Linda (Crane, Elk Mountain town clerk) worked with the census person and told her every place to look,” Irene said. “I don’t know how they could miss so many people from a town this size.”

“My wife worked for the census, because she wanted a job that counted,” Weikum said. “She couldn’t talk a lot about it to me because of what was confidential, but I know they sent her all over rural areas to get people counted.”

Weikum said he had thought from what his wife was doing, the census would be accurate.

“But I have to say Rawlins is down in population according to them also,” Weikum said.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the 2020 Census counted every person living in the United States and the five U.S. territories. It marked the 24th census in U.S. history and the first time households were invited to respond to the census online.

The census bureau said it began preparing for the 2020 Census even before the 2010 Census ended and made changes to account for lessons learned in 2010. It conducted operational census tests in cities across the country in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2018.

The Census Bureau said it mailed up to seven invitations and reminders, including up to two paper questionnaires to households, and gave the public three options to respond; online, by phone or by mail.

For households that couldn’t be reached by mail, a census taker dropped off a paper questionnaire or visited to interview the household. The census questionnaire was available in 13 languages, giving over 99 percent of U.S. households the option of responding online or by phone in their language. Help with responding was also available in 59 languages through language guides available in print and video on 2020census.gov. The Census Bureau said when it didn’t receive a response, census takers visited or called to interview households.

According to the Census Bureau they are checking their data. They look at operational quality metrics on how it collected the responses. It does a thorough review of census operations. The Census Bureau also is asking outside experts to independently review its work.

Irene is not convinced all these steps worked.

“Linda knows who lives here and we know it isn’t right,” Irene said. “The problem is, with larger towns, this could be a serious problem.”

Weikum agreed.

“We could be off 300 people in Rawlins and we would never know,” Weikum said. “I see what Morgan is saying.”

Moore asked Nelson about Saratoga.

“When we got our numbers back, I was with Mayor Creed and when we saw the figures, we both said, there is no way this is right,” Nelson said. “We went from 1690 to 1599. That is almost 100 people and it just doesn’t feel right with all that is going on.”

Nelson said at the time he attributed the decline to out-of-state property owners who don’t use Saratoga as their major residence. He had not considered a statistical error until the CCCOG meeting.

“If you had asked me to guess before the census came out, I would have said Saratoga was around 2000,” Nelson said.

Weikum said families might be getting smaller and this is causing the decline in his town, but agreed the situation was worth looking into.

“For us we know because we are small,” Irene said. “I am not trying to say anything bad about the census and the takers, but it was a wacko year at best.”

Weikum said the census did run behind because of COVID-19 and then there was a push at the end to hurry up.

Sinclair also said its census showed them losing population.

“I would support looking into this,” Irene said. “I heard the county has lost population but I don’t know for sure.”

Carbon County’s estimated population is 14,642 with a decline of -0.54 percent in the past year according to the most recent United States census data. Carbon County is the 13th largest county in Wyoming. The 2010 Population was 15,848 and has seen a decline of -7.61 percent since this time.

Moore said he would try to find out who to contact to qualify the numbers being presented to the municipalities.

Yvonne Johnson, director of Carbon County Economic Development Corporation (CCEDC) spoke for a few moments on how the CCEDC was working to bring in new businesses into the county.

She said she had to respect the confidentialty of which companies were looking at coming into Carbon County for a few more weeks. Johnson did say she looked forward to coming to CCCOG in the near future to reveal exactly what businesses were going to establish themselves and where.

The next meeting of the Carbon County Council of Governments will be at 6:30 p.m. on November 17 in Rawlins.


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