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Census: Athens County communities facing counting issues

(WTAP)
Published: Mar. 7, 2020 at 3:33 PM EST
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It’s a new decade, which means the U.S. Census is just around the corner. This year could be pivotal for multiple communities in Athens County.

According to County Commissioner Chris Chmeal, the City of Nelsonville is right on the cusp of losing its “city” title.

He says Ohio mandates a city have at least five thousand residents. Anything under five thousand is considered a village – and Nelsonville may be cutting it close.

“Nelsonville seems to be the one most people are talking about, because they’re right on that bubble of five thousand,” said State Representative Jay Edwards, who is from Nelsonville.

Edwards noted there are socioeconomic difficulties involved in getting a proper count, especially in rural areas like southeast Ohio.

“It’s so much tougher in areas that have- number one rural- people are spread out. But two, we have high poverty index, so we have a lot of people that just don’t come to town very often. They don’t have access to vehicles. It’s hard for them to register online, they don’t have access to broadband to get counted. These sorts of things are a real challenge,” said Edwards.

While Chmeal and Edwards say Nelsonville could lose its city status, elected officials are also reminded of a familiar problem closer to the county seat.

“Back in 2010, one of the lowest response rates in the state of Ohio were off campus Ohio University students,” said Chmiel. “That’s our hardest community to count right now. They only had about a 40% response rate back in 2010.

Chmiel says if you live somewhere 51% of the time, you are supposed to report to the census in that community, even if you don’t vote there. Having a correct count makes a big difference in the federal funding made available.

“I believe that every person that responds is worth about $1,400 annually,” said Chmiel.

Now, Chmiel and community members are putting their best foot forward to get a proper count.

“We’re really trying to target that (student response), we’re sending out stuff to landlords, which they’ll send out to all of their people. We’re actually going to have this thing called “Census Fest” on April 1st, that’s Census Day. We’ve got a little kiosk next to the Board of Elections, and we’ve got a Facebook page,” said Chmiel.