City officials to challenge federal 2010 Census figures

3/16/2011

By SHAJIA AHMAD

By SHAJIA AHMAD

sahmad@gctelegram.com

Local officials say they will challenge federal 2010 Census figures showing dramatic population declines countywide.

The 2010 U.S. Census Bureau reported earlier this month that Garden City's population declined 6.3 percent over the last decade, from more than 28,000 people in 2000 to 26,658 in 2010.

The new statewide figures reported by county and city also said that Finney County's population declined, from more than 40,000 in 2000 to 36,776 in 2010.

City Manager Matt Allen, who met with city commissioners during a pre-meeting Tuesday, said the new numbers just don't pass the "eye test." Allen said limited available housing in the community coupled with a U.S. Census Bureau-recognized estimate of 28,532 in 2009 means that there's more, if not the same number of people, in Garden City now.

"There's no way you can arrive at a 2010 population decrease. It just doesn't equate ... We don't know what the number is, but we do know it's definitely not 26,000," Allen said Tuesday.

Local officials believe the more accurate count is 30,065 for Garden City and 43,008 for Finney County, according to January 2011 estimates from the planning department, which covers the jurisdictions of Finney County, Garden City and Holcomb, where the estimated population is 2,165.

Population demographics are not only important as far as federal and state funding allocations, but many private industries interested in moving to a community to provide services and jobs often examine population trends.

A declining population can look unattractive to a business interested in moving into a community, planning officials have said.

Kaleb Kentner, director of the Planning and Community Development Department, told city commissioners it's his department's goal to challenge the 2010 Census figures for Garden City and Finney County.

The case is built using figures on utility customers and household size, Kentner said, and it's not the first time the city has made a challenge.

In 2008, the Census estimated that the city's population was about 26,000, and following an appeal process, the department bumped that figure up to about 28,000.

Kentner said in his experience it's taken about six to nine months for federal officials to complete the appeal process, a form that must be submitted by June, though he's uncertain how the challenge will turn out.

Estimates can be challenged between official census years, but federal officials have said the 2010 count is an official number that they are unlikely to change even with new information.

Kentner said the city will take advantage of the federal bureau's Count Question Resolution program, a planned administrative review program that handles external challenges to particular official Census 2010 counts of housing units and other information.

Kentner said one "big plus" is that with the new 2010 Census data, federal officials have estimated that the average household size in Garden City is nearly 3.3, up from an average household size of 2.2 in 2000, a figure that will help the city build its case.

In 2000, the Census count was 28,451, then the city and county experienced a drastic decrease in population after the Con-Agra plant fire on Dec. 25, 2000.

The drop was "easily seen and felt" in the community, Kentner said, but city officials believe the population rebounded to the 2000 Census count as early 2006.

"The Census Bureau wants as accurate information as we want, so that's our goal," Kentner said.

Kentner said he expects county officials to direct his department to also challenge its population figures.

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