BISMARCK -- To Dwaine Heinrich of Jamestown and Dave Carlsrud of Valley City, the challenge the two mayors made -- which of their communities would be better counted in the 2020 Census -- isn’t just for fun. It’s a call to action for their people to participate in an important exercise with lasting implications.
“With the economy going in the direction it's going with the virus and shutdowns and everything, the dollars per person counted are critical to our little community," Carlsrud said, referring to federal financial support that’s distributed based on the decennial count.
"It's really important that we maximize any fiscal benefits we can."
The challenge, which was announced in January and will conclude on July 31, will reward whichever of the two cities has a higher response rate for the census. The mayor of the city with the lower response rate between the two will wear a hat promoting the winning city at a city council meeting.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau website, the 2019 population of Jamestown is 15,084, while Valley City came in at 6,323.
As of June 25, response rates for Barnes County are at 58.2% while Stutsman County response rates are at 68.8%.
"If people are willing to voluntarily step up and be counted, in some ways, that shows in a sense that they understand and they want to be part of the community,” Heinrich said.
While filling out census forms may not be at the top of everyone’s minds, counting each resident is financially critical to North Dakota. According to recent data, one missed resident costs the state of North Dakota approximately $19,100 and one missed household costs North Dakota approximately $44,312.
The U.S. Census Bureau adjusted census operations to prioritize the health and safety of American citizens and employees due to COVID-19. The Census can be filled out via the mailed form, by phone or online here. Previous federal funds granted to North Dakota based on resident count from the 2010 Census include programs such as Medicaid, Head Start, Foster Care and Low-Income Energy Assistance.
The current highest response rates per county as of June 25 come from Burleigh County at 75.3%. Morton County followed at 69.3%, Stutsman County at 68.8%, Ransom County at 68.1% and Foster County at 67.5%.
The lowest rates of response per county come from Sioux County at 26.9%, Rolette County at 28.1%, McKenzie County at 30.6%, Mountrail County at 32.3% and Benson County at 34.3%.
The Bismarck Census Office restarted operations on May 4. Follow-up counting began in June after door-to-door Census work was postponed in late March. Door-to-door nonresponse follow-up will resume on Aug. 11.
Kevin Iverson, North Dakota Census office manager, said door-to-door nonresponse follow-up was delayed due to COVID-19. That part of the count is important, as door-to-door follow-up typically speeds up the process of residents responding.
Iverson said more monetary resources and effort are going toward this year’s Census than ever before.
“I think people just simply do not understand how critical and long-term the census (data) is financially to the state,” Iverson said. "If you have a gas station, it's one less tank of gas filled. If you have a pop machine, it's one less can of pop sold. It impacts all of us to get this information in and get it accurate."
Dickinson Mayor Scott Decker said this week that an accurate count is important for the community not only because of local benefits and funding programs, but because it is important for Western North Dakota to be properly represented in Bismarck. Rapid population growth in the past decade could influence the reapportionment of legislative districts.
"With an accurate count, we just have a better representation of what is needed in the West," Decker said.
Jennifer Heist, director of development for the Valley City-Barnes County Development Corporation, said an inaccurate resident count makes it more difficult to meet the needs of the community and fund improvements with such things as building amenities and public schools.
Heist said she hopes college students in Valley City make a point to participate since they make up a large part of the community.
“They are a really big part of our population,” Heist said. “Everything we do is based on population. You end up living with that census data for quite a while.”
As the July 31 deadline for the challenge between Jamestown and Valley City gets closer, Carlsrud said regardless of the good nature of the challenge, the importance of the 2020 Census is bigger than the two communities.
"This is more than just Valley City and it's more than just Jamestown,” Carlsrud said. “It's beneficial to both of us to be properly counted and that's the spirit in which we're doing it.”
Additional North Dakota Census information can be found at https://commerce.nd.gov/census