Wilson County is aiming to have one of the highest 2020 census completion rates in the state, and officials are making a final push to drive up the numbers before the count closes on Sept. 30.
The county’s self-response rate is high, with 74% of county residents having completed the form online. That number is second only to Williamson County in Tennessee and beats out both the national self-response rate (66%) and state self-response rate (65.3%) as of Wednesday.
However, the county has not measured the number of residents who have completed the questionnaire through in-person interviews with census takers. Members of the Count Me Wilson initiative, a county-level census committee, estimate that would put the total somewhere near 90%, compared to the national rate of 93.6% and the state’s 94.5%.
“I think it’s important for people to know this impacts everyone in Wilson County,” Wilson County Project Administrator and Count Me Wilson member Susan Shaw said. “It impacts the funding we get from the state for education, and a study from Municipal Technical Advisory Service says it’s about $142 per person year. We could also see about $1,091 per person per year in federal funding for social programs, based on a George Washington University study.”
Wilson County could see approximately $32.8 million in combined state and federal funds based on the count, which the U.S. Census Bureau predicted has risen by 26,632 since 2010. The numbers also influence each state’s share of seats in the House of Representatives, and Tennessee has a chance to pick up another this year for more electoral votes.
“We had the census team organized several months ago,” Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto said. “Tom Brashear has headed that up for us an got a cross-section of leaders across the county … we’ve gotten some feedback about areas we need to concentrate on, so we’re using liaisons like city and county commissioners in those areas.”
Brashear, who also serves as Wilson County’s planning director, said census-based funding helps local governments finance projects without looking for more taxpayer money.
“That $1,091 per person is for one year, so if you round it up that’s about $12,000 the county loses out on for every person who doesn’t respond to the census,” he said. “Probably the best examples of the local impact would be the State Street Aid Fund for transportation infrastructure like roads and bridges, and the educational funds.”
Both of those state level funds are given roughly $142 per year based on the MTAS study, and officials are hoping to boost the total amount. Lower response areas the county is focusing on include Mt. Juliet’s Providence and Belinda City areas, a section of Lebanon south of I-40 and an area from the Wilson County Fairgrounds south to I-40.
“One area in Lebanon has an internet response rate of 25.8%,” Shaw said. “It may be that they don’t have internet access or don’t use the internet as much, so we have to reach out in other ways.”
That means taking on the radio, distributing flyers and recording PSAs for television, among other strategies. One of the things county leaders are emphasizing is that the census will not place anyone’s privacy at risk.
“The survey is anonymous, and however you do it, it is to remain anonymous,” Shaw said. “The other thing is, you don’t have to answer every question. If you feel it is going into your privacy and you’re not comfortable, you don’t have to answer it, but it’s important to answer as many of them as possible — especially the question about how many people were living in your household on or before April 1, because that’s the one that influences the count and will impact funding for the next 10 years.”
The U.S. Census Bureau is legally prevented from sharing responses with the IRS, FBI, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement or any other government agency. Information entered online is also encrypted to prevent it from being stolen.
“Regardless of your views about the government, this is a way for us to get money back to the local level,” Brashear said. “And the less people counted, the more money we lose out on.”