Friday, April 2nd, 2010
By Shelley Grieshop
Mercer leads state in census returns
  Mercer County leads the state with a 74 percent return of U.S. Census forms, according to data released this morning.
The spotlight is shared with Auglaize County, which holds second place with 73 percent.
While Grand Lake residents are taking the task seriously, not everyone is. Thursday was Census Day - the date Americans were supposed to return their completed forms - but only about half the country complied. Although officials had hoped for better numbers, they aren't surprised.
"We're seeing about the same return rate now as we did in 2000. It's about what we expected," said Larry Courtney of the census office in Bowling Green, which oversees 13 counties including Mercer and Auglaize.
Local return rates also were excellent in the last major census a decade ago, Courtney said, although he's not sure why. Perhaps residents take more seriously their "civil duty"; Mercer County often records one of the highest voter turnout rates in the state and nation.
The most prompt community in the area is Chickasaw, with a 84 percent return rate. Posting the lowest rates are the villages of New Weston and Osgood (see graph).
As of today, 60 percent of Ohioans had returned their forms.
It's not too late to complete the 10-question form, stuff it in the provided postage-paid envelope and mail it back, Courtney stressed.
"We'll be accepting them well into May," he explained.
By late April or early May, about 200 census workers will arrive in Mercer and Auglaize counties to visit the procrastinators.
"We'll have a small army of people going door to door to get the information," Courtney said.
Census employees are paid $12.25 per hour. It costs the government about $57 for each household visited by a census worker or "enumerator." Workers will provide residents with another form, if necessary, and assist those who need help, he said.
There is no long form this year, but some residents may get contacted randomly by phone in the coming months to answer more detailed information, Courtney said. And in areas that previously have posted poor return rates, households may receive a second form in the mail.
"It's been proven that sending out a second form greatly increases the return rate. It saves us from having to send people out, so it costs much less," he said.
Improving the response rate by just 1 percent saves taxpayers about $90 million, Courtney added.
The census has two main functions, according to Courtney: it helps to more fairly apportion Congressional seats to each state and aids Congress in doling out $400 billion annually in federal funds.
Susan McKanna of the Mercer County Economic Development office said the distribution of federal funds is closely tied to the census data.
"The federal funds we receive are based on population and needs," she said. "That's why it's so important that communities fill this out and send it in."
As program director, she knows the local area has received plenty of government grants and low-interest loans for sewer, road and housing projects based on the information provided by each community, she said.
"It's the first thing the state looks at," McKanna added.
Courtney stressed information gathered through the Census is kept confidential and not shared.
The U.S. Census office mailed out 134 million questionnaires in March asking for the following information: name, sex, age, date of birth, ethnic background, and whether the residence is owned or rented by inhabitants. The form appears lengthy because it provides space for the same data from each member of the household.
Officials estimate it takes approximately 10 minutes to answer the information.

Local Returns:
Town  Percent
Chickasaw  .84
Coldwater  .81
Minster  .80
St. Henry  .79
Versailles  .77
New Bremen  .77
New Knoxville  .76
Fort Recovery  .75
St. Marys  .72
Celina  .69
Rockford  .67
Willshire  .66
Mendon  .65
Montezuma  .63
Burkettsville  .62
Ansonia  .50
Osgood  .41
New Weston  .40
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