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New Census? Heitkamp wants local, state lawmakers to decide

It might be time to stand up and be counted for the sake of North Dakota, if a new census more than a half-decade early finds enough support from state and local lawmakers.

With North Dakota's population growing, U.S. Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's communications director, Whitney Phillips, said the senator "understands the challenges and opportunities facing western North Dakota" and wants lawmakers to decide if the results of a new census count would be beneficial.

"(Heitkamp) is working hard to find policies that will improve the quality of lives of those living and working in the area," Phillips said. "On this issue in particular, however, North Dakota's state and local governments must determine if requesting and financing a special census is in their interests."

Shirley Meyer, the western area director for Heitkamp and a former state representative, said last week at a Dunn County Commission meeting that she wants to compile statistics on what is happening in the region, especially in the oil- and gas-producing counties of the state.

"Just the sheer numbers really weigh into the federal funding component," she said.

If the state would conduct a new census, Meyer said the count would likely not be able to happen until next year, but the process could get under way.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, North Dakota's estimated 2012 population was 699,628, in comparison to 684,740 in 2011 and 672,591 in 2010, the last year a national census was conducted.

Meyer said the state would have to pay for the new census to be conducted, but it could make a difference financially.

"For every person not counted in North Dakota, it costs us $10,000 over the decade," she said. "It's very interesting to see the numbers. In Dickinson, we're going to go from 17,000 (people) to over 40,000. That's like taking the entire town of Mandan and sticking it in Dickinson and we're supposed to deal with that somehow."

The population in Dunn County is likely to be on the rise if the county receives an additional 47 new oil rigs by August, as has been projected.

Dunn County Commissioner Donna Scott agreed that a new census might not be a bad idea, since Dunn County's population figures are likely not up-to-date given the county's recent surge in energy development.

"(Commissioner) Reinhardt (Hauck) and I went to a census workshop 13 years ago and that was one of the things Reinhardt really stressed then," Scott said. "The census count in Dunn County is way off, and it is probably even more off now than when we went to that conference years ago."

"I would be very in favor of doing in a census here because I think the county would definitely benefit," Hauck said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's annual estimates of resident population for counties in North Dakota, Dunn County had 3,536 residents as of April 1, 2010 and Stark County had 24,199 people.

By July 1, 2011, those figures were expected to rise to 3,720 people in Dunn County and 25,177 people in Stark County, according to the bureau's statistics.

The western side of the state would most likely benefit the greatest from a new census.

"Williston's count was so unbelievably off and they kind of started driving this," Meyer said. "You can just look at Dunn County or Stark County's number and say that's not accurate. It could make a huge difference in funding because so much of it is based on the census count."