Belleville and O'Fallon leaders might appeal census results

News-DemocratFebruary 18, 2011 

O'Fallon and Belleville leaders might appeal the results of the 2010 U.S. census because of low population totals in the two communities.

Both cities paid for a special count since the 2000 census -- O'Fallon in 2007 and Belleville in 2008 -- because of a combination of discrepancies with those totals and new growth. But the 2010 count found significantly fewer people living in each community.

"Yeah, we do!" O'Fallon Mayor Gary Graham said emphatically when asked if his town planned to appeal. "We were higher than that. This all started a year ago when they were in town. They were missing a whole bunch of stuff, and we were showing them what they were missing. It was something like 300 homes at one time."

Graham said the Census Bureau said it would address the problems. But it doesn't appear the bugs were worked out.

"We have tried to do what we could do with them," Graham said. "We know they're off and we can prove they're off. But who wants to go through all of this? It really bothers me to think about all the money we have to waste fighting them. We figure it's about $80,000 a year they're costing us in lost revenue."

Belleville had 45,506 when it conducted a partial special count in 2008. But totals released by the Census Bureau indicated Belleville has 44,478.

O'Fallon Finance Director Dean Rich, who has served as the point man for the city's census-related activities, said O'Fallon had 29,421 after its 2007 special count. The census pegged O'Fallon at 28,281 for its 2010 count, a number that Rich said doesn't make sense. He said O'Fallon has added 400 new houses since the special count and expected to total more than 30,000.

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said he expected his city's population to hold steady or grow slightly when results came in. Instead, it fell by about 1,028 residents.

"We're analyzing things, but we haven't made a decision at this point about if we will contest the results," Eckert said. "We firmly believe that the city is growing again. We'll lose money if our population is less. But is it worth it financially to fight it? We don't know yet."

A call to the Census Bureau's Chicago regional office was answered by a person who said that no one was available to discuss the situation with the press.

According to Illinois Municipal League figures, cities are expected to receive about $118 per person in state and federal money.

Belleville stands to lose $121,304 a year compared to its previous census number. Eckert estimated it could cost $200,000 to appeal the count -- and even then, there is no guarantee that all the lost residents could be accounted for.

Graham said it likely will take more than a year to get the problems sorted out, and he doesn't know if the lost revenue can be recovered retroactively.

O'Fallon leaders were braced for problems even as the count began. Rich said several hundred residents were missed on pre-count neighborhood lists and that he feared other residents wouldn't be properly credited to O'Fallon because their pre-census forms, although mailed to the right place, indicated the residents lived in Belleville.

Eckert said the census is an inexact science because it counts on people to cooperate and on volunteers and part-time employees with little experience to do a thorough and accurate job.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at swuerz@bnd.com or 239-2626.

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