January 20, 2022 |
New concerns over the accuracy of the 2020 census will have no impact on the current tug-of-war over redistricting Wyoming’s 90 House and Senate legislative districts, but it could affect revenue streams to the state’s small towns. Some communities are planning to challenge the census, saying they were undercounted.
Concerns were first raised in Worland and Laramie after the U.S. Census Bureau released the numbers last summer. Towns in Carbon County are now questioning the numbers. The topic came up at Saratoga’s town council meeting Tuesday night. On the agenda was a letter from the Wyoming Association of Municipalities that offered guidelines about launching a formal protest if the town had doubts about the accuracy of the count.
Councilman Jon Nelson noted that disbursements of state revenues to small towns in Wyoming are based on population. Nelson added that he is aware of one town in Carbon County that says the Census Bureau got the count wrong.
Many of the new residents likely moved to Saratoga post-pandemic, after the 2020 census was taken.
The head-counting process took place during the first shockwave of the novel coronavirus. COVID-19 ripped through communities, disrupting institutions and normal social interactions.
WAM Member Services Manager Justin Schilling sent the letter to town council that sparked the discussion. Schilling told Bigfoot 99 that despite efforts to encourage on-line self-reporting in 2020, several factors stemming from the pandemic may have resulted in an inaccurate count. The City of Laramie certainly believes its population was undercounted, he said.
Pictured above: Carbon County, Wyoming. Photo by Jim O’Reilly/Bigfoot 99.
The 2020 census numbers used by the Wyoming legislature during this year’s redistricting effort shows Albany County with 7.3 percent increase in population, 2,650 more residents than in 2010. Officials in Albany County believe the actual number is higher because students were not counted.
The first town to question the census was Worland. According to the official count, Worland saw the highest percentage drop of any city in the state – 13.0 percent or 714 residents. Town officials say that’s not the whole story.
In Carbon County, census figures show a 7.4 percent drop in population between 2010 and 2020. According to the numbers being used by state lawmakers, the county saw a decline of 1,174 residents. Most of that appears to have come out of Rawlins, which saw the biggest population decline of any city in the state — 1,083 residents. Wherever the loss came from, some members of the legislature’s Corporation Committee are using the decline as a reason to shift representation in the state house to Laramie County. Wyoming’s biggest county saw a population increase of 8,857 people or 9.6 percent. Lawmakers there say they deserve an extra seat in the house.
Schilling admitted that a lot of people are skeptical that the census is accurate. A perfect storm of circumstances compromised the 2020 head count — communities and institutions were not functioning normally, people weren’t applying for jobs knocking on doors, and many people were reluctant to participate in the head count.
Challenging the outcome might help some communities with revenue streams. It won’t have any impact, however, on the legislature’s redistricting effort, Schilling said.
The other non-starter for any impact on redistricting is that the deadline for communities to file a “census count question” challenge is June, 30, 2023. The drop-dead date for the legislature to pass a redistricting plan on third reading is March 10th. The real issue is not redistricting. It’s money. Distribution of state sales tax dollars is stake. So are federal dollars.
Several communities are planning a formal protest. At Tuesday night’s council meeting, Saratoga Mayor Creed James read from an email chain that included responses to the original notice that WAM sent out last week to local governments last week.
Local communities would have to pay for any recount. It’s not cheap. Shilling said the only city he knows that has conducted a recount is Phoenix, Arizona, where the revenues at stake covered the cost. Shilling also said mounting a successful challenge is a steep and narrow climb. Saratoga council voted to support the WAM effort to consider such a challenge.