Officials skeptical of population figures
Macon County is no longer the fastest growing county in Western North Carolina, according to population figures released by the U.S. Census earlier this year. But Macon officials are skeptical of the census findings, and are preparing to examine them with federal workers in the coming months, said County Manager Jack Horton on Friday.
“The preliminary population figures were higher than the final count of the census. We thought that was unusual, given the fact that most of the preliminary estimates in other counties actually ended up being lower than what their final count was,” said Horton.
Horton noted that Macon County had a better participation rate in last year’s census, than it did in 2000. In fact, last September, Chairman Ronnie Beale presented County Planner Derek Roland and Rhonda Blanton, of Healthy Carolinians, with a plaque on behalf of the county and Census Bureau in recognition of their efforts in getting county residents involved with the count. The response rate saw an increase of 23 percent from the previous census.
At that time, the Macon County Board of Commissioners released initial census population results numbering 36,667— a 23 percent increase from 2000’s count of 29,811 county residents. “I think Macon County did an extra effort to get out the information to encourage people to participate,” remarked Horton.
However, to the dismay of county officials, final census figures indicate only a 14 percent population growth, with 33,922 residents counted in 2010. Jackson County on the other hand saw nearly a 22 percent rise within the last decade, reaching 40,271.
“I think we are pretty happy with the population figures,” said Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten on Friday, adding that Western Carolina University had a substantial impact on the local economy and population. “We saw a big increase ... Cullowhee is now our most populated city.” Wooten said that at this point, Jackson County will not be reanalyzing the census findings.
But Macon County officials want to look into things like population breakdowns, county map boundaries and the unoccupied dwellings counted last year. “We want to take a look at some of their assumptions and see how valid they are, before we are satisfied that we have the very best and accurate count from the census,” said Horton, adding that many households throughout Macon County are owned by parttime residents and could have been misconstrued as “unoccupied.”
“Our question is, if they did an accurate job, that’s fine, but we want to make sure that they didn’t leave anybody uncounted,” Horton said. “I know there are some folks who may not have received a census form,” said Horton, recalling some comments made at past county meetings of such a form never being distributed to locals. “We want to make sure that they did everything they needed to do on the federal side. We need to verify that it is correct, and if not, then we need to get it adjusted to the right number that is correct.”
But what’s the big deal about population growth? It determines the amount of money allotted to a county to fund public establishments like hospitals and schools. It also determines the percentage of state shared sales taxes that is set for the county and towns therein. “It has a definite impact on our shared revenue sources,” said Horton.
“If the census figures had probably come equal to, or greater than the predicted numbers, I don’t think we would be questioning it this much,” said Horton. “Since it came in lower, which is contrary to what the other counties are experiencing, we felt like we should take a closer look at how they came up with the number they came up with.”
As summer approaches, Horton said the matter of reevaluating census figures will heat up as well. “I expect between now and July we will probably meet with them,” he said.