Athens moves forward with census

The 2010 Census is well underway in Athens and local officials, citizens, and students are helping to promote.

Census promoters take ideas from the national and regional offices.

John Lowery, the local census office manager, said the majority of publicity for the census is provided by the national office.

“They are primarily responsible for promoting the census,” Lowery said. “They have the advertising budget. We don’t.”

The Athens branch of the Local Census Office, which covers 14 counties, uses Field Operations Staff and enumerators to go into the community and build awareness about the census. Enumerators travel door-to-door during the census to gather addresses of community members.

The staff has contacted on-campus housing supervisors as well as off-campus housing facilities to assist students with the questionnaire. They also pass out fliers.

The office began preparing for the census last spring. Enumerators gathered U.S. Postal Service approved addresses from the community to build a database.

The office also has Partnership Specialists whose primary responsibility is to promote the census by having conversations with local community members.

The local government also plays a major role. The Athens-Clarke County Planning Department announced on its website that, “Mayor Heidi Davison [has] appointed the Complete County Committee (CCC)” for the region. The program consists of government leaders and community members willing to build awareness of the census.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau Web site, the CCC members can do the following:  

· Organize a team of local people who can provide the cultural and community insights   

  necessary to build 2010 Census awareness efforts.

· Promote the value of accurate and complete census data.

· Have a positive impact on the questionnaire response rate.

The Athens-Clarke County division includes members from the Department of Family and Children Services, the Council on Aging, the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government, the Clarke County School Board and other organizations.

CCC programs play a major role in making sure every person in a specific community is counted.

Julie Morgan, special projects coordinator planner II at the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department, said that Athens uses the CCC to do most of its promotion concerning the census.

“The Complete Count Committee consists of community leaders who have contact with harder to count populations,” Morgan said. “Students are difficult to count. So are the homeless and Hispanic populations.”

The committee also holds various programs in different schools around the city.

“The Clarke-County school district applied for grants and received a lot of money to build census awareness,” Morgan said.

She adds that the shirts help bring information home to parents. They made about 7,000 shirts for students.

She also said that the CCC “steals ideas all the time from the national website.” The committee is beneficial because each member of the committee knows the questions and concerns of his or her group and can make the most productive efforts based on that knowledge.

At the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, some faculty and staff at the Applied Demography Program are filling “the information gap between data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau and what local governments collect on their own.” The group collects population data beneficial to local and state governments in planning their budgets.

Students can also participate in the action. The U.S. Census Bureau Web site provides information for students and graduates to apply for jobs.

Emily Brown, 20, a sophomore political science major from Cumming said the census form wasn’t that hard to fill out. She said the census is helpful because “it gives the city money and Athens really needs it.”

As far as awareness is concerned, Brown has seen some of it.

“I saw someone in Tate,” Brown said. “And I got a couple extra mailings. I’ve also seen stuff about it on the news.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau Web site, the estimated population of Clarke County in 2008 was 114,737. This is a 13.1 percent increase from the estimated 101,487 people living in the county in April 2000. The 2000 census data shows that Clarke County was the 14th most populous county in the state. The estimated population of Athens in 2006 was 111,580. This is an 11.3 percent increase from the 2000 estimate of 100,266. University of Georgia students make up a good portion of the population with 32,938 people in the fall of 2007.

The constitutionally required U.S. Census takes place every 10 years. The goal is to count every person living in the United States “to help determine the number of seats your state has in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

But this is not the only reason the census takes place.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau Web site, “the census will help communities receive $400 billion dollars in federal funds each year for things like: hospitals, job training centers, schools, senior centers, bridges, tunnels and other public-works projects, and emergency services.”

The website also states that not completing the census can have negative effects on a community.  Not only will it affect the amount of federal dollars the community receives, but the census is also “one of the most powerful ways of having a voice in the United States.”

The 2010 Census questionnaire will be mailed to every address. It is the shortest census questionnaire since the first one in 1790. Citizens must only fill out their name, gender, age, race, ethnicity, relationship, and if people living in the house own or rent their homes. The census questionnaire is only available in print form. The bureau is required under federal law to protect the confidentiality of all personal date it receives.

For more information, please visit the U.S. Census Bureau Web site, http://2010.census.gov, or call the local census bureau office at 706-534-5910.


Repaving meeting low in attendance

It was a quiet and empty meeting at the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department Auditorium on Tuesday, March 16.

The Madison Athens-Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study, also known as MACORTS, held its public information meeting for local citizens to review and comment upon the addition of the Jobs for Main Street Act Amendment to the Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP).

The TIP includes all of the projects that will receive federal funding during the next four fiscal years. The document is updated annually to reflect changes that occur to projects.

The latest project added to the Transportation Improvement Plan is to resurface US 441/SR 15 from SR Loop 10 to about 0.2 miles south of CR 478/Newton Bridge Road.

Sherry Moore, transportation planner for MACORTS, and Iris Cleveland, associate transportation planner, were available to answer questions at the casual two-hour meeting.

Moore explained that the meeting was an open forum. There was not a formal presentation planned, only tables set up displaying posters of the resurfacing project, documents detailing the plan, and sheets for the public to provide their input.

A number of factors explain why the meeting had low attendance.

Moore explains that more people are sending questions and comments through e-mail rather than taking out the time to attend a meeting. She has seen a decrease in public attendance in the past five years.

This specific project has received little public feedback.

Also, the nature of the project, which is only to repave a stretch of US 441, will have minimal effects on its surroundings.

Although this part of the US 441 is busy, the project will not be difficult. Moore said it would be different if it was a road-widening project.

Local citizens usually start calling the department after construction has started.

“People are generally not plugged into the planning side,” Moore said. “They don’t say something until the bulldozers are in their face.”

She adds that the commute will be bumpy for a few months and will be surprising for some people at first.

The Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) chose this project, along with many others across the state to complete. However, completion is only possible if federal funds become available for use. The project has 90 days to get into contract.

However, when and if the project will take place depends on whether the Jobs for Main Street Act becomes law. The bill has passed in the House, but not in the Senate.

The bill will provide states an estimated $75 billion to generate jobs with targeted investments for transit and other important factors that will help the economy grow.

MACORTS, which only uses federal funds, hopes to use the money from this bill to complete the project. The estimated cost of the project is $2,291,000.

If the bill does not pass, there will be another meeting to announce that the amendment is being taken out of the TIP. The project will then go back to the state level as something that will be completed later. 

The Georgia DOT chose this project to complete because of its quick and easy nature. This project will take less than six months to complete.

Citizens can continue to send their questions and comments via email to macorts@co.clarke.ga.us until April 09, 2010. A copy of the draft is also available for review at the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department.


Upcoming meeting to discuss new paving project

  The passage of a new bill in the House of Representatives will help fund a repaving project in Athens-Clarke County. Local residents can participate in the action.

 The meeting, headed by the Madison Athens-Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study, also known as MACORTS, will let the public review drafts of the project documents and give their suggestions and criticisms.

 MACORTS, a cooperative transportation planning group, encompasses the urbanized areas of Athens-Clarke County, parts of northern Oconee County and southern Madison County.

 The group has scheduled a series of public informational meetings in Athens, as well as Madison and Oconee counties, for citizens to review and comment upon drafts of the documents required for the project to take place. The meeting in Athens will take place on Tuesday, March 16, 2010 in the Athens Planning Department Auditorium from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

 The project, US 441/SR 15 Resurfacing, will repave US 441/SR 15 from SR Loop 10 to about 0.2 miles south of CR 478/Newton Bridge Road.

According to Sherry Moore, the transportation planner for the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department, some necessary steps must take place before the project can begin.

 First, the project needs to be included in two documents: the Transportation Improvement Program, also known as TIP, and the Long Range Transportation Plan, otherwise known as LRTP. Both of these documents are required for MACORTS to have access to federal and state transportation funding.

 The annually-updated TIP document contains all of the projects that will receive funding during the next four years. The repaving project is the latest addition to the document. After its annual update, the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department makes it available to the public.

 The LRTP deals with the transportation needs for the next 20 years in the region. Any project that makes it into TIP must also be included in the LRTP to be eligible for funds. The planning department makes this document available to the public after they update it every five years.

 Both documents can be accessed via the Madison and Oconee County Planning Department Web sites, as well as the MACORTS Web site.

 The next step in the process is to supply a space for the public to provide input and discuss their concerns; this is a federal requirement for the county to receive funds.

 Moore says the Georgia Department of Transportation can do the paving quickly if they have the money.

 After the public meetings, Moore says MACORTS compiles all public comment and summarizes it for review by two committees. The committees then make any necessary changes and decisions according to the public’s input.

 The project will begin depending on when the House passes the new bill, titled Jobs for Main Street Act. Moore says this project is a bit different from those in the past because its completion relies on the passage of the bill.

 MACORTS cannot determine an exact time for when the project will begin until the House signs the bill. However, Moore estimates that the project will begin sometime in the summer.

 According to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Web site, the purpose of ‘Jobs for Main Street Act’ is “to create or save jobs here at home with targeted investments ($75 billion) for highways and transit, school renovation, hiring teachers, police, and firefighters, small business, job training and affordable housing – key drivers of economic growth that have the most bang for the buck.”

 The investments are paid for using funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, otherwise known as TARP. The government buys these funds from financial institutions, mainly located on Wall Street, for use in the financial sector to make economic improvements.

 A major component of the bill is to stabilize jobs by investing in infrastructure improvements. Approximately $27.5 billion will be allocated to improving highway infrastructure across the nation. This improvement will have short-term and long-term benefits, such as supporting jobs and saving commuter’s time and money, respectively.

 In 2007, the average daily traffic volume on USS 441/ SR 15 was 14, 615. By 2035, the projected volume is expected to be 24, 720. The bill will cover the $2,291,000 cost of the project.

 Moore says the public should come to the meeting to see what is going on in their region and help build awareness about the project. The public can help ensure that MACORTS spends the funds efficiently.

 If anyone is unable to attend the meetings, he or she can email their comments via the MACORTS Web site, http://www.macorts.org, or stop by the planning departments in their respective counties to view copies of the project drafts. Public comment will be accepted from Feb. 22, 2010 to April 9, 2010.