The 10-question census sheet Rim Country residents will receive next month affects everything from how $400 billion in annual federal aid is disbursed to the makeup of county governing boards.
County officials who work on the local census publicity team updated supervisors recently, alerting them that informational notices would soon be sent to local residents in preparation for the actual 10-question census sheet. National Census Day is April 1.
Some politicos in northern Gila County eagerly await the results and the redistricting that could follow. Critics complain that the existing district boundaries favor southern Gila County, whose interests dominate both the supervisor and community college boards.
Also, the federal government annually distributes $400 billion in aid based on census figures.
Population demographics affect the type of funding — spending for senior citizens, for instance, might differ from spending for an area with mostly young families. Also, areas with a large number of renters might receive different federal aid than areas with mostly homeowners.
“It really is important that every single person be counted,” said Jacque Griffin, who serves on the publicity committee.
Questions include how many people live in each residence, if the person owns or rents, and each person’s gender and ethnicity.
The information is for statistical purposes only, and census organizers say stringent confidentiality laws prohibit census takers from sharing information.
The standard number of questions posed this year has decreased, said Bob Gould, who works for the county, but also serves on the census committee.
Historical census data provided a snapshot of people’s occupations, income levels and educational attainment, among other things.
However, the Census Bureau has transitioned into using the American Community Survey model, which annually surveys statistically representative portions of the population for more detailed information.
Some people complain that the census questions are intrusive, and worry that census takers or the government could abuse personal information.
Supervisor Tommie Martin said her standard answer to people who fear losing their anonymity is, “We know who you are, we know where you live.” She added, “Now hold your head up and be counted.”
After the 2000 census, the county supervisor districts were re-drawn because the Payson area had grown so large that it held 28 percent more voters than the next largest district. That year, 13,620 people lived in Payson, while fewer than 7,500 lived in Globe.
Although Payson’s population has roughly doubled since 1990, and 2008 census figures put the number of residents in town at 15,500, Globe’s population has stayed essentially the same.
Critics said the redistricting map that county supervisors approved after the last census unfairly drew Payson’s population growth into southern Gila County districts, keeping the power down south.
The then-assistant elections director said the final plan was chosen because it avoided splitting precincts, according to previous reports.
Although Rim Country has far more people than the Globe and Miami area, the majority of representatives on both the Gila Community College board and the board of supervisors have hailed from southern Gila County.
In 2001, Payson’s then-mayor, Ray Schum, led a fight to create two urbanized supervisor districts — one of Globe and one of Payson — along with a third comprised of the remaining rural areas.
Ultimately, the plan chosen by county supervisors took Star Valley and moved it into District 3, now held by Supervisor Shirley Dawson. Payson’s southern tip was carved into District 2, held by Supervisor Mike Pastor.
Payson candidates have little shot at getting elected since so little of the District 2 and 3 electorate lives here. In the 2008 Democratic primary election for District 2, the two supervisor candidates from southern Gila County received 88 percent of the votes, with the candidate from northern Gila County receiving just 12 percent.