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Western ND towns may challenge 2010 Census counts

Dickinson, Beach, Tioga and Williston officials may challenge the 2010 Census numbers.

"The number of residents doesn't match the number of boots on the ground," Williston City Auditor John Kautzman said. "It's unfair that they (transient workers) do not claim residency here because our infrastructure has to support them."

Census numbers are important because some state and federal dollars are distributed based on them, Dickinson Mayor Dennis Johnson said, adding if more people live in an area than the census indicates municipalities are missing out on government money they are entitled too.

Dickinson City Administrator Shawn Kessel estimates that one person equals $1,600 a year in government money.

"If you multiply that annual amount by the number of people that may have not been counted or by how much our population may grow and then take that times the 10 years until the next census it could be a huge amount of money," Kessel said.

Rep. Shirley Meyer, D-Dickinson, said when conducting the census, workers were running into the problem of people refusing to say they lived here, and claimed their residence where they were from originally despite living in North Dakota for months or even years.

Stark County Commissioner Jay Elkin agrees, adding hotels and motels to that list.

"Our goal is to count everyone," Denver Regional Census Center Media spokesman Douglas Wayland said. "There is a process we follow, but determining usual residence can be challenging."

According to the residency rule on the census website, people must be counted at their usual residence, which is the place where they live and sleep most of the time.

This rule applies to people who have two residences, people at targeted non-sheltered outdoor locations, people in certain types of facilities or shelters (places where groups of people live together), people at transitory locations such as recreational vehicle parks, campgrounds, hotels and motels (including those on military sites), hostels, marinas, racetracks, circuses or carnivals and people who do not have a usual residence, according to the website.

If time is equally divided, or if usual residence cannot be determined, they are counted at the place where they are staying on April 1, 2010 (census day), according to the website.

Tioga Auditor Jamie Eraas said proving the numbers are wrong may be difficult.

"Short of doing their own head count, how can cities and counties prove that there are more people here than were counted?" Eraas said.

Kessel might have the answer.

"Two options the city is looking at for challenging the census numbers are to utilize the Count Question Resolution Program (which counts houses) or to ask for a special census (which counts people), Kessel said.

The Count Question resolution program can be utilized from June until June of 2013, but a special census can be done at anytime.

Johnson and Kessel said if the city decides they don't agree with the census, conducting a special census may be the way to go as the city can choose when to do it.

"Waiting for a few months or even a year or two before conducting a special census would give us a better indication of what our population is or will be this decade," Johnson said. "Our population may grow rapidly in that time frame depending on the energy industry. It would be best to see if the drilling comes closer and how much activity that will bring."

Golden Valley and Stark county commissioners agree and said though they have discussed challenging the numbers they have decided not to at this time.