The gauntlet - in this case a cap - has been thrown down in a friendly competition between the mayors of Jamestown and Valley City to see which community can have the best response rate during the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census.

The mayor of the community with the lowest percentage of people who voluntarily return the census questionnaire will have to wear a cap promoting the other community during a televised City Council meeting later this summer.

The Census Bureau will begin releasing the percentage of people who are filling out and returning the census forms in late March on a weekly basis, and the winner of the wager between Jamestown Mayor Dwaine Heinrich and Valley City Mayor Dave Carlsrud will be announced in July.

"It's a friendly competition," Heinrich said. "Dave I have agreed to do it again in 10 years."

The Census form will be sent to area residents in March and can be completed and returned as of March 12. Census workers will follow up with visits to anyone who doesn't return the form in a timely manner.

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Louise Dardis, co-chair of the North Dakota Complete Count Taskforce, said people who return the form help make the census process go smoothly.

"The most simple answer is it saves time and effort that would have to go into tracking people down," she said, "and there is no question it improves accuracy."

The accuracy of the census is important because many federal aid programs for transportation, education and social programs are based on the census data, Dardis said.

"We've missed out on millions of dollars in aid in the past," she said.

Warren Abrahamson, media chair for the Jamestown Complete Count Committee and host of a brief program Tuesday, said it was estimated that each person counted in the census equates to $19,000 in federal assistance through the decade.

Dardis said census information is strictly confidential with statistics presented in ways that "don't include identifying information."